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November 13, 2023

The First Department Addresses When a Party Is Entitled to Treble Damages Pursuant to Judiciary Law §487

In its recent decision in Suzuki v. Greenberg1, the New York Appellate Division, First Department addressed the issue of when a party may recover damages from the other side’s attorney pursuant to Judiciary Law §487. The First Department affirmed the lower court’s decision granting the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and awarding her treble damages and denying the defendant’s cross-motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint and for sanctions. 

In Suzuki, during the course of the underlying matrimonial action, the defendant, an attorney representing the plaintiff’s former husband, among other things, intentionally failed to inform the court of the existence of a custody order awarding the plaintiff primary physical custody of their child and prepared an affidavit for his client falsely stating his client had never been a party to a neglect proceeding and asserting that his client was the child’s custodial parent. 
 
In affirming the lower court’s decision, the First Department concluded that the evidence submitted by the plaintiff, which consisted of proof that the defendant intentionally failed to inform the court of the custody order, sufficiently established “egregious conduct” under Judiciary Law §487. According to the court, recovery under Judiciary Law §487 does not require a plaintiff to show a chronic pattern of delinquency, but rather a single egregious act is sufficient. 

Additionally, the court concluded that the award of treble damages was appropriate, noting that the purpose of Judiciary Law §487 is not to compensate a plaintiff for injuries but rather to punish lawyers for misconduct and to deter them from future misconduct.

The Suzuki decision clarifies, at least in the First Department, that demonstration of a single egregious act will suffice for recovery under Judiciary Law §487. 

If you have any questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact Tara Sciortino, counsel, at tsciortino@barclaydamon.com; Luke Schiano, law clerk, at lschiano@barclaydmaon.com; or another member of the Professional Liability Practice Area. 
                                                                                    

12023 N.Y. Slip Op. 05455 (1st Dept 2023)

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