12.7 - 2. Litigation

JurisdictionNew York

2. Litigation

Absent an agreement to arbitrate, the courts are available to enforce contracts, and litigation remains the presumptive method by which contracts are to be enforced.5409

There are significant differences between arbitration and litigation in court. Court orders are appealable both as to the result reached and the remedy obtained. The grounds for reviewing arbitration awards are limited. An arbitrator’s decision, and the remedy awarded, will be enforced if any rational basis exists to sustain it.5410 That courts might prove more circumspect than arbitrators with respect to the specific performance of labor agreements is indicated by the Court of Appeals decision in Burke v. Bowen.5411 In that case, the city of Long Beach had laid off 13 firefighters in clear violation of a job security clause in the city’s agreement with its firefighters’ union. There was no arbitration agreement, so the union turned to the courts for enforcement of the contract. Pursuant to a CPLR article 78 proceeding, the union sought to enjoin the breach and obtain an order reinstating the laid-off firefighters. While the Court of Appeals agreed that the contract had been breached, it affirmed the denial of specific performance relief. Applying traditional rules of remedy in contract law, the Court found that monetary damages would be adequate to compensate those illegally let go, and that, as a matter of equity, the city could not be compelled to reinstate the dismissed firefighters. On similar facts, the Court confirmed an arbitration award specifically enforcing a job security clause.5412

Resort to litigation to resolve questions of contract enforcement does not mean the full panoply of court procedures is always available. In practice, many cases are decided pursuant to article 78.5413 Where no factual disputes exist, contract interpretation questions are often ripe for summary judgment.5414 The CPLR’s “Simplified Procedure for Court Determination of Disputes” is also available.5415 Parties to that type of agreement submit a statement specifying claims and defenses in lieu of formal pleadings.5416 Trial by jury and the technical rules of evidence do not apply. There is a pretrial conference pursuant to which discovery is provided and the possibility of summary judgment is explored; a note of issue is filed, and the case goes to trial.5417 Appeal from factual findings is limited to whether “any substantial evidence” exists to support them.5418

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