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New York’s Highest Court Grants Rare Reargument of Workers Compensation Case That Affects Personal Injury Actions


New York’s Highest Court Grants Rare Reargument of Workers Compensation Case That Affects Personal Injury Actions

July 1, 2013

In an extremely rare decision, the New York State Court of Appeals has granted reargument. In Auqui v. Seven Thirty One Ltd. Partnership, the court granted reargument of its prior ruling that granted the defendants’ motion to preclude plaintiffs from litigating the issue of the injured plaintiff’s accident-related disability based upon a prior ruling by the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB).

While the granting of motions to reargue is rare, it is not a guarantee that the court will reverse itself. A motion for reargument is addressed to the discretion of the court and is designed to afford a party an opportunity to establish that the court overlooked or misapprehended the relevant facts, or misapplied any controlling principle of law. “Its purpose is not to serve as a vehicle to permit the unsuccessful party to argue once again the very questions previously decided.” Foley v. Roche, 68 A.D.2d 558 (1st Dep’t 1979). “Reargument is not designed to allow counsel to rehash questions already decided.” 2A Weinstein-Korn-Miller, N.Y.Civ Prac, par. 2221.04. On reargument, plaintiffs and the amicus supporting plaintiffs’ position will likely focus upon the reasoning of the dissent and attempt to persuade the remaining judges to reconsider their holding. Interestingly, there were only five judges on this ruling. Judge Ciparick had retired, and Judge Jones had unfortunately died. Judges Rivera and Abdus-Salaam took no part in the decision.

In Auqui, after being injured at work on December 24, 2003, the plaintiff began collecting workers’ compensation, and he commenced a personal-injury action. While the action was pending, the plaintiff’s employer moved before the WCB to discontinue plaintiff’s benefits on the grounds that he was no longer disabled as a result of the accident. At a hearing where evidence and expert testimony was presented, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) determined the plaintiff no longer suffered any disability as of January 24, 2006. The plaintiff appealed, but a full panel of the WCB affirmed the ALJ’s ruling. The court ruled this determination should have preclusive effect as to the duration of the plaintiff’s disability, relevant lost earnings, and compensation for medical expenses. The court found that the doctrine of collateral estoppel was applicable because the issue of continuing benefits before the administrative agency necessarily turned upon a question of fact and that plaintiff had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue.

The lone dissenter, Judge Pigott, noted that the WCB reached a conclusion about whether the plaintiff “had an ongoing physical or psychological disability, preventing him from returning to his job — and nothing more.” According to the dissent, the question before the WCB was whether he could return to work — “a very narrow issue dependent on type of work and a claimant’s condition vis-à-vis that occupation. If that is not an ultimate conclusion, it’s difficult to think what would be.” The dissent continued, “The suggestion that this administrative decision means anything more is misguided.” Judge Pigott believed that this question was a mixed one of law and fact. Finally, Judge Pigott noted the failure of the majority to “consider the practical short-cuts in reasoning that are employed by Workers’ Compensation Law Judges,” including the preclusion of one psychiatrist’s testimony in this case based upon technical grounds.

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