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Current Developments in the Commercial Divisions of the
New York State Courts by Schlam Stone & Dolan LLP
Posted: July 8, 2019

Policy Notices Submitted by Defendant Insurer Not 3211(a)(1) Documentary Evidence

On June 26, 2019, the Second Department issued a decision in Magee-Boyle v. Reliastar Life Ins. Co. of N.Y., 2019 NY Slip Op. 05118, holding that policy notices submitted by the defendant insurer were not documentary evidence sufficient to support a motion to dismiss under CPLR 3211(a)(1), explaining:

Moreover, that branch of Reliastar’s motion which was pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) should have been denied. To succeed on a motion to dismiss based upon documentary evidence pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1), the documentary evidence must utterly refute the plaintiff’s factual allegations, conclusively establishing a defense as a matter of law. In order for evidence to qualify as documentary, it must be unambiguous, authentic, and undeniable. Judicial records, as well as documents reflecting out-of-court transactions such as mortgages, deeds, contracts, and any other papers, the contents of which are essentially undeniable, would qualify as documentary evidence in the proper case. Conversely, letters, emails, and affidavits fail to meet the requirements for documentary evidence. Here, in support of that branch of its motion which was pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1), Reliastar submitted the policy and certain policy notices, which, according to Reliastar, refuted the plaintiffs’ contention that the policy cancellation was the result of Reliastar’s breach of its obligations under the policy. The policy notices, however, were, in effect, letters, which fail to meet the requirements for documentary evidence within the meaning of CPLR 3211(a)(1). Under the circumstances, Reliastar did not conclusively establish a defense as a matter of law or utterly refute the plaintiffs’ factual allegations.

(Internal quotations and citations omitted).

This decision relates to the New York procedural rules allowing a claim to be dismissed if it is refuted by documentary evidence (CPLR 3211(a)(1)). As this decision notes, documentary evidence does not mean just any kind of document. Many cases have held that the law is “fuzzy” on when a document can be used as documentary evidence under 3211(a)(1). Contact Schlam Stone & Dolan partner John Lundin at jlundin@schlamstone.com if you or a client have questions regarding whether a claim against you can be refuted at the pleadings stage by documentary evidence.

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