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Posted: November 29, 2013

Final Judgments Subject to Discretionary Review Under CPLR 5015

On October 7, 2013, we noted that on October 9, 2013, the Court of Appeals would hear argument in Nash v. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Docket No. 238. On November 26, 2013, the Court of Appeals issued its decision in Nash, 2013 NY Slip Op. 07830, clarifying that even final judgments may be vacated under CPLR 5015.

On January 14, 2010, Nash received a judgment for $4.4 million against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for injuries she sustained in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The First Department affirmed the trial court’s decision on June 2, 2011. The judgment became final on July 13, 2011, “due to the failure of the Port Authority to appeal” the First Department’s affirmance to the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals subsequently issued a decision in In Matter of World Trade Center Bombing Litig. (“Ruiz”), 17 NY3d 428 (2011), holding that “the governmental immunity doctrine insulated the Port Authority from tortious liability for injuries sustained in the” bombing. Four days later, the Port Authority moved to vacate Nash’s judgment against it based on the Ruiz decision. The trial court granted the motion in a decision that a divided First Department affirmed.

The Court of Appeals ruled that even though the first judgment against the Port Authority was final, the Port Authority could still move to vacate it under CPLR 5015, writing:

Section 5015 applies not only to judgments that are still in the appellate process, . . . but also to those in which appellate review has been exhausted. Save for the one-year requirement in section 5015(a)(1) concerning excusable defaults, motions made pursuant to subdivisions (2), (3) and (5) contain no limitation of time, only a requirement that the time within which the motion is made be reasonable. The determination as to whether such a motion has been made within a reasonable time is within the motion court’s discretion. Notably, section 5015 does not distinguish between final and non-final judgments, or those that have or have not exhausted the appeals process. . . .

[T]he motion court’s determination to vacate a judgment is a discretionary one. It may relieve a litigant from a judgment upon such terms as may be just. This language applies to all five of the enumerated CPLR 5015 (a) subdivisions, in addition to qualifying the court’s common law ability to grant relief from a judgment in the interests of justice. In exercising its discretion, the motion court should consider the facts of the particular case, the equities affecting each party and others affected by the judgment or order, and the grounds for the requested relief.

(Internal quotations and citations omitted) (emphasis added).

The Court of Appeals reversed the decision below on a different ground–the trial court’s ruling that it was compelled by Ruiz to vacate the judgment.  The Court of Appeals remanded so that the trial court could decide the motion to vacate using its discretion.

The lesson here is that if there is a sufficiently compelling reason, CPLR 5015 provides an avenue to get even a final judgment vacated.

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