New York Civil Litigation Attorney

Mr. Haber has litigated many different kinds of cases in a variety of different courts, both state and federal.

If you have been wronged in some way, you may have a right to sue, and it is important that you consult with an attorney quickly, so that proofs can be preserved and so the lawsuit can be started within the period allowed by the statute of limitations. In some cases, there are very short limitations periods and sometimes there are notices that must be filed quickly.

Similarly, if you are being sued, it is crucial that you not let time pass. There are strict timeframes to respond to a lawsuit and if you don’t act in time, even if a court ultimately allows you extra time, you may wind up spending a lot of money that you wouldn’t otherwise have had to spend.

When you have a right to sue, the type of case, remedy sought, and amount at stake will determine the correct court. Some cases are brought in state court (or even in city court, if the monetary amount sought is modest), while others are in federal court. Each court has different jurisdictional requirements. When requirements overlap, we will choose a court as a matter of strategy and pragmatism.

Litigation can be complicated, and unless the matter falls within the definition of a “small claim,” nobody should try litigating without an attorney. As an example of just how confusing and counterintuitive litigation can be, the state-level trial court in New York (in other words, the lowest court) is known as the Supreme Court.

Here’s a quick checklist for determining the right court:

  • “Small claims” disputes: In New York City, up to $5,000.  No lawyer is needed.
  • NYC Civil Court: Disputes up to $25,000.
  • NYS Supreme Court:  Disputes above $25,000 or that seek non-monetary remedies (like injunctions).
  • NYS Surrogate’s Court:  Mainly estates and adoptions.
  • U.S. District Court:  Disputes involving (1) questions of federal law or that involve (2) disputes between citizens of different states and in which damages are valued at $75,000 or more.

Michael S. Haber has been prosecuting and defending lawsuits for more than 25 years.  A consultation with him will prove his knowledge, experience, and skill.

 Basic Information About Lawsuits

A lawsuit is started by filing the summons and complaint with the Court. This stops the statute of limitations. Then, the plaintiff usually has 120 days to serve process. In most courts, process may not be served by a party to the lawsuit. Depending on how the summons and complaint are served, the defendant will have 20 or 30 days to respond to the complaint. The defendant has two options here.  It can either file a document that is called an “Answer” or it can make a motion to dismiss without filing an answer.

An “Answer” is a series of numbered paragraphs that correspond to the paragraph numbers in the complaint. It’s a completely legalistic document that may include such scintillating prose as: “In response to paragraph 84 of the Complaint, defendant John Smith denies knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of each and every allegation contained therein.”  Or “Defendant repeats and realleges each and every allegation contained in paragraphs “1” through “83,” inclusive, hereof, with like force and effect as though set forth at length herein.”

The answer may also set forth affirmative defenses — defenses that the defendant would have the obligation to prove, such as that the case is barred by the applicable statute of limitations.

The defendant may elect to make a motion to dismiss instead of answering the complaint. Such a motion does not look to whether the plaintiff is right or wrong, but, rather, looks to impediments in the complaint itself. Examples of this are if the statute of limitations already expired at the time the lawsuit commenced, or if the defendant was not properly served with process, or if the court does not have jurisdiction over the matter, or if the complaint does not allege anything that would allow a lawsuit to be brought.

If a motion to dismiss is made, and granted, the lawsuit goes away. But if no such motion is made or if it is denied, then the defendant must answer the complaint. After the answer is filed, the process of discovery begins, and the parties collect and exchange information about the facts underlying the lawsuit or the defense of the lawsuit. Discovery is comprised of several vehicles, including depositions, the most powerful discovery device. It is an in-person interrogation of a party or witness in which each word is transcribed.

When discovery ends, then any party can make a motion for summary judgment – a request to the court to decide the case without trial. The premise of the motion is that all evidence amassed suggests that there is no real dispute as to the important facts and thus no need for a trial because the judge can just apply the law to the undisputed  facts. In a trial, the judge tells the jury what law to apply to the facts that the jury determines; if there really are no genuine issues of fact, then there is no need for a jury trial.

Unless the motion for summary judgment is granted in its entirety, the case goes to trial as to any part of the case that remains after the court’s decision on the summary judgment motion.

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