Thursday, May 1, 2014

A divorce action, and a referre's overstepping his bounds.

Practice point:  Plaintiff commenced this divorce action on the ground of constructive abandonment, and, at a preliminary conference, the parties, each represented by counsel, stipulated that defendant would assert a counterclaim for divorce on the ground of constructive abandonment, and plaintiff withdrew her claim. The outstanding financial matters were referred to a special referee to hear and determine. The parties then stipulated that the referee would also hear and determine the issue of grounds, pursuant to their preliminary conference stipulation. However, at the hearing, defendant made an application to withdraw his counterclaim, and, over plaintiff's objection, the referee granted the application, leaving plaintiff without a cause of action for divorce. The referee then granted plaintiff's application to reinstate her claim for divorce. Although the referee stated that he was permitting plaintiff to proceed by inquest, instead he conducted a full trial on grounds, at which defendant was permitted to interpose opposition. The referee denied the divorce.

The Appellate Division determined that the referee exceeded his authority when he permitted defendant to withdraw his counterclaim for constructive abandonment, and conducted a fully contested trial on plaintiff's previously-withdrawn claim. The referral by the court, as thereafter expanded by the parties' stipulation, did not give the referee authority to set aside any part of the parties' stipulation, pursuant to CPLR 4311; By clear and unambiguous terms, defendant had waived his right to withdraw his counterclaim.

Student note: Even if the Referee had the authority to set aside the stipulation, there was no legal basis whatsoever was set forth justifying setting it aside.

Case:  Karpov v. Shiryaev, NY Slip Op 02848 (1st Dept. 2014)

Here is the decision.

Tomorrow's issue: A cause of action for civil conspiracy.