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The History of the New York Court of Appeals: 1932-2003

Bernard S. Meyer
Burton C. Agata
Seth H. Agata
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 864
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  • Book Info
    The History of the New York Court of Appeals
    Book Description:

    From 1932 to 2003, the New York Court of Appeals-the highest court in the state- decided crucial cases pertaining to the social and legal issues of the day. The judges' rulings affected laws regarding motion picture censorship; obscenity, indecency, and immorality; religion; capital punishment; torts; the right to control personal medical care; and abortion.

    This comprehensive history completes a two volume series that began with The History of the New York Court of Appeals, 1847-1932. Each case is richly recounted and analyzed, detailing the decisions and dissenting opinions. Short biographies are provided for the judges who served during this period, and changes in the selection of judges, as well as the court's jurisdiction, are thoroughly explained.

    Particular to this volume, the authors provide the legal, social, and political contexts for these cases, showing how the law has evolved over time. They examine the court's view concerning its constitutional power to respond to an economic emergency during the Great Depression; they outline cases in which the judges ruled on the government's role in legislating morals and morality; and they focus on the evolution of the court's opinions regarding statutory interpretation, judicial federalism, censorship, constitutional reform, criminal law and capital punishment, rules of evidence, education, family law, and antitrust and labor law.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50990-9
    Subjects: Law, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    Bernard S. Meyer, Burton C. Agata, Seth H. Agata and Richard T. Farrell
  4. 1. A Brief Overview of the Court of Appeals
    (pp. 1-37)

    THIS CHAPTER IS not intended to be the definitive constitutional history of the Court of Appeals nor a comprehensive biography of those judges who have sat on the Court. Rather, its purpose is to give the reader an overview of the composition of the Court since 1932, as well as answer the question of how it came about that there are seven nonelected members of the Court rather than eight elected judges as was originally provided for in 1846.¹

    The New York Constitution of 1846 abolished the Court for the Trial of Impeachments and Correction of Errors. It created the...

  5. 2. Jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals
    (pp. 38-81)

    THERE HAVE BEEN a number of changes in the jurisdiction of the Court since 1932. The 1943 amendments to Article VI of the New York State Constitution removed the provision that had authorized the Legislature to restrict the Court’s jurisdiction, replacing it with a provision limiting the Legislature’s authority to abolish appeal of right based on dissent, reversal, or modification and instead authorized appeal in such cases by permission of the Appellate Division or the Court of Appeals (Article VI § 3[b][6]) and authorized direct application to the Court in a proper case (Article VI § 3[a]). The 1943 amendments...

  6. 3. Interrelation of the Court of Appeals, the Legislature, and the Executive
    (pp. 82-98)

    Article VII of the New York State Constitution specifies procedures for the adoption of a State budget. The procedures, based on the concept of an executive budget, have been part of the State Constitution since the adoption of amendments in 1927 during the administration of Governor Alfred E. Smith. Basically, the executive budget approach involves the Governor’s submission of a proposed budget to the Legislature, together with appropriation bills. The content of the Governor’s submission is based on information submitted to the Governor by the various departments of government; the information also is submitted to the appropriate legislative committees.


  7. 4. Common Law and the Court of Appeals
    (pp. 99-108)

    Benjamin Nathan Cardozo is a central element in any description of the development of the common law by the Court of Appeals, as Judge Bergan recognized in The History of the New York Court of Appeals, 1847–1932, at 248–252. Judge Jerome Frank expressed deep admiration for Cardozo’s “candor” in his writings and lectures about how common law judges make decisions.¹

    To place ensuing development in context, it is useful to recall Cardozo’s description of how the Court works in dealing with its role and obligations. Judge Cardozo wrote:

    My analysis of the judicial process comes then to this,...

  8. 5. Statutory Interpretation
    (pp. 109-123)

    Similar to the experience of other jurisdictions, no single approach to statutory interpretation has been adopted or applied by the Court of Appeals. Basically, the Court has subscribed to the general proposition that its role is to effectuate the “intent” of the Legislature. In doing so, the Court has begun with the text of the statute and employed or referred to a variety of doctrines and tools when construing statutory language. The so-called “plain meaning” rule has been the most commonly accepted doctrine—that is, unless necessary to resolve ambiguity or if the result would be absurd or result in...

  9. 6. Form of Opinions and Reports
    (pp. 124-132)

    CASES ARE NORMALLY decided in one of three forms: Opinion—defined in Black’s Law Dictionary (7th ed.) as “A court’s written statement explaining its decision in a given case, usually including the statement of facts, points of law, rationale and dicta.” Per curiam—“An opinion handed down by an appellate court without identifying the individual judge who wrote the opinion” (id.). Memorandum opinion—“A unanimous opinion stating the decision of the court; an opinion that briefly reports the court’s conclusion, usually without elaboration because the decision follows a well-established legal principle or does not relate to any point of law”...

  10. 7. The Great Depression
    (pp. 133-156)

    Federal and State measures to deal with the Great Depression presented the New York Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court with crucial constitutional questions and substantial issues of statutory construction. Widespread unemployment, unstable markets, and business and bank failures were some of the conditions those measures were intended to meet. Indeed, the Court of Appeals concluded that conditions were so manifestly serious that it “is common knowledge that widespread unemployment has undermined standards of living to a degree which threatens the economic stability of state and nation and affects the welfare of all the American people.” New...

  11. 8. New Judicial Federalism
    (pp. 157-216)

    It is undisputed that the Federal Constitution acts as a floor for individual constitutional rights and that the states have the power to recognize more expanded rights under their own constitutions. What has been disputed is whether and when a state should expand individual rights beyond those resting on the Federal Constitution.¹

    Symptomatic of this dispute are the amendments to the Florida, California, and Rhode Island Constitutions ratified in the 1980s. As a result of a referendum, the Florida Constitution was amended to prevent the Florida courts when applying the Florida Constitution in search-and-seizure cases to go beyond United States...

  12. 9. Motion Picture Censorship
    (pp. 217-252)

    It is almost a commonplace to describe as “tolerant” and as “fostering freedom” the New York Court of Appeals’ treatment of freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, and of assembly and to characterize those rights as broader under the New York State Constitution than under the Federal Constitution. People ex rel. Arcara v. Cloud Books, Inc., 68 N.Y.2d 553, 557 (1986); People v. P.J. Video, 68 N.Y.2d 296, 308–9 (1986); Town of Islip v. Caviglia, 73 N.Y.2d 544, 556 (1989); also see, Judith S. Kaye, “Dual Constitutionalism in Practice and Principle,” 61 St. Johns L. Rev. 399,...

  13. 10. Obscenity, Indecency, and Immorality
    (pp. 253-327)

    Legislators have always been concerned with indecency and immorality, particularly with respect to sexual matters, and the concept of obscenity was a focus of these concerns. State exercise of its police power and Federal legislation based on congressional power to regulate the mails and interstate and foreign commerce attacked obscenity in a variety of ways. The New York statutes at the outset presented issues of statutory interpretation, and later they became the subject of State and Federal constitutional questions as well. In important respects, how the New York Court of Appeals dealt with obscenity was both similar and dissimilar to...

  14. 11. Religion
    (pp. 328-406)

    Four provisions of the current New York State Constitution deal explicitly with the relationship of the state and religion. The basic provision, Article I, § 3, which guarantees freedom of worship and religious freedom, and Article XI, § 3, known as the Blaine Amendment, which prohibits the use of public funds in aid of denominational schools except for transportation of students, have been the sources of the greatest amount of litigation. The other two provisions are Article VI, § 32, which expresses a preference, “when practicable,” for matching the religious persuasion of adoptive or foster parents with that of the...

  15. 12. Real Property
    (pp. 407-448)

    In a number of cases the Court has decided constitutional issues relating to cooperative and condominium corporations. 19th Street Associates v. State of New York, 79 N.Y.2d 434 (1992), involved a 1982 consent judgment which provided that the cooperative would be permitted to evict nonpurchasing tenants and sell the shares allocated to their apartments after December 31, 1989. The Court held the consent judgment constituted a contract, that a statute enacted in 1989 which granted protection from eviction to nonpurchasing tenants currently residing in a cooperative or condominium apartment by virtue of the 1982 judgment impaired the tenants’ contractual rights,...

  16. 13. Contracts
    (pp. 449-470)

    Decisions of the Court during the period covered by this book deal with a multitude of issues. Julian J. Studley, Inc. v. New York News, Inc., 70 N.Y.2d 628 (1987), and Grombach Productions Inc. v. Waring, 293 N.Y. 609 (1944), recognized that contracts could be implied a well as express, but both held that the record in each negated an implied contract. The Studley opinion stated that any implication of employment of plaintiff’s real estate broker as the seller’s agent in the real estate transaction involved was explicitly negated by plaintiff’s own signed agreement with the buyer reciting that plaintiff...

  17. 14. Torts
    (pp. 471-477)

    In 1902, in Roberson v. Rochester Folding Box Co., 171 N.Y. 538, a 4–3 decision, the Court concluded “that the so-called ‘right of privacy’ has not yet found an abiding place in our jurisprudence,” and a number of later decisions have continued to hold that New York does not recognize a common law right of privacy. Cf. Messenger v. Gruner + Jahr Printing and Publishing, 94 N.Y.2d 436 (2000). Prosser, in his article on privacy in 48 California Law Rev. 383, 385 (1960), noted that the Roberson decision was greeted with “a storm of disapproval which led one of...

  18. 15. Corporations
    (pp. 478-492)

    In general, a corporation that acquires the assets of another is not liable for the torts of the predecessor. Schumacher v. Richards Shear Co., Inc. 59 N.Y.2d 239 (1983). As noted in that case, however, exceptions to that rule are recognized if (1) the successor expressly or impliedly assumed the predecessor’s tort liability, (2) there was a consolidation or merger of seller and purchaser, (3) the purchasing corporation was a mere continuation of the selling corporation, or (4) the transaction was entered into fraudulently to escape tort obligations. Accord Grant-Howard Associates v. General Housewares Corp., 63 N.Y.2d 291, 296 (1984)....

  19. 16. Arbitration
    (pp. 493-501)

    NEW YORK HAS sanctioned arbitration as an effective alternative method of settling disputes since at least 1829. Matter of Goldfinger v. Lisker, 68 N.Y.2d 225, 230 (1986). Arbitration provided for in the contract of the parties is referred to as consensual or common law arbitration, while arbitration required by statutory or ordinance provision is denominated compulsory or statutory arbitration, Hinkle v. Zimmerman, 184 N.Y. 114–17 (1906), even though some procedures of common law arbitration were governed by statutory provisions of the code of civil procedure and are now governed by Article 75 of the civil practice law and rules....

  20. 17. Criminal Law
    (pp. 502-546)

    IT WOULD BE beyond the scope of this book to examine all the criminal cases the Court of Appeals has dealt with. Instead, this chapter is concerned only with some questions that have been dealt with uniquely by New York: (1) defendant’s right to counsel at the pretrial stage and (2) the death penalty, particularly cases that led to and involve the 1995 death penalty statute. Criminal law issues are addressed in some detail in chapter 8, “New Judicial Federalism,” and in other chapters as well.

    The general trend of the New York Court of Appeals decisions on the right...

  21. 18. Evidence
    (pp. 547-585)

    In 1975, the Federal Rules of Evidence became the basic law of evidence for Federal courts. Since then, more than forty states have adopted or adapted the Federal Rules of Evidence or otherwise codified their evidentiary rules. New York State is not among them. While statutes contain some New York evidence law, the state has not yet codified such law. In some measure the persistent rejection of codification reflects the bar’s preference for judicial development of this area of the law.¹ Consequently, New York evidence law has remained basically the product of judicial decisions employing common law methods of decision...

  22. 19. Conflict of Laws
    (pp. 586-599)

    Sections 5–1401 dealing with choice of law and 5–1402 dealing with choice of forum were added to the General Obligations Law by Chapter 421 of the Laws of 1984. Section 5–1401 applies to a transaction covering in the aggregate not less than $250,000, including one otherwise covered by § 1–105 of the Uniform Commercial Code, and permits the parties to agree that the law of New York shall govern their rights and duties in whole or in part “whether or not such contract, agreement or undertaking bears a reasonable relation to this state.” It exempts, however,...

  23. 20. Procedure
    (pp. 600-614)

    While earlier cases required mutuality of estoppel before collateral estoppel would be applied, e.g., Glaser v. Huette, 232 A.D. 119, aff’d. no op. 256 N.Y. 686 (1931), that rule has been overturned by the decisions in Israel v. Wood Dolson Company, Inc., 1 N.Y.2d 116 (1956), B.R. DeWitt, Inc. v. Hall, 19 N.Y.2d 141 (1967), and Schwartz v. Public Administrators, 24 N.Y.2d 65 (1969). Those decisions make clear that “the fact that a party has not had his day in court on an issue as against a particular litigant is not decisive in determining whether the defense of res judicata...

  24. 21. Education
    (pp. 615-640)

    THE STATE CONSTITUTION simply mandates and authorizes the Legislature to establish an educational system and leaves the details, including financing, to the Legislature. Article XI of the New York State Constitution contains three sections. Art. XI, § 1, states: “The Legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated.” It was added to the Constitution by the 1894 convention, although , there was a substantial statutory-based educational system in place even before New York became a state.¹ Section 2 establishes a Board of Regents...

  25. 22. Abortion, Right to Control Own Medical Care, and Some Related Matters
    (pp. 641-667)

    Chapter 270 of the Laws of 1970, popularly known as the “justifiable abortion act,” amended New York Penal Law § 125.05, subdivision 3, by liberalizing the previously narrow basis on which abortion could be justified to avoid criminal liability. The New York Court of Appeals sustained the constitutionality of the act under the Federal and State Constitutions in Byrn v. New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, 31 N.Y.2d 194 (1972), affirming 38 A.D.2d 316 (2d Dept. 1972). Byrn was decided before the Supreme Court held in Roe v. Wade , 410 U.S. 113 (1973), that the Federal constitutional right...

  26. 23. Family Law
    (pp. 668-691)

    Most of the constitutional issues raised in Family Law cases have involved the full faith and credit provision of the Federal Constitution. Thus Estin v. Estin, 296 N.Y. 308 (1947) aff’d 334 U.S. 541 (1947) considered a case in which the wife had obtained a separation and an alimony award in New York, after which the husband moved to Nevada. There, he obtained a divorce in an action in which, after constructive service on the wife in New York of the summons and complaint, he was awarded a divorce on the basis of three years separation. However, as no provision...

  27. 24. Election Law
    (pp. 692-699)

    As the Court has noted it labors “under the severe time constraints of election cases, of which we are painfully aware.” Matter of Staber v. Fidler, 65 N.Y.2d 529, 535 (1985). Although cases relating to party offices or rules, to results of a state, county, town, or city election, to delegates to a nominating convention for federal or state office, or to ballot position may arise at other times of the year, most election cases are considered in a one-day session occurring during the last week of August and relate to nomination for public office.

    During that day in August,...

  28. 25. Antitrust and Restraints on Competition
    (pp. 700-725)

    The Sherman Act, the basic Federal antitrust statute, was enacted in 1890,¹ after which several states followed by adopting their own antitrust statutes. The primary New York antitrust statute was first enacted in 1893, and after a series of amendments became known as the Donnelly Act in 1899.² In some respects the language of both the Donnelly and Sherman Acts were (and remain) substantially similar, but in one major respect the Donnelly Act differs from the Federal statute. While each statute condemns concerted actions, including agreements in restraint of trade and concerted action to “monopolize” or to establish or maintain...

  29. 26. Picketing and Labor Relations
    (pp. 726-739)

    THIS CHAPTER DEALS with picketing and labor relations. Some other aspects of labor relations are dealt with in chapters 7 and 25.

    In 1938, the Poletti Report to the New York State Constitutional Convention¹ reviewed the then state of the law in New York concerning picketing and concluded that the “exact extent to which picketing is constitutionally protected as a form of speech or mode of assembly is doubtful.” Poletti Report, at 184. When the Report was issued, the Court of Appeals had decided only a few cases on the subject and the “question whether picketing in labor disputes is...

  30. 27. The Chief Judges’ Contributions: State of the Judiciary
    (pp. 740-746)

    SOL WACHTLER AND JUDITH KAYE, during their services as Chief Judge, contributed more to the Court and the work of lower courts than any of their predecessors. In addition to their many speeches and articles, they have prepared their regular assignment of opinions and during the same period (1989 through May 2002), they have written articles in various law journals, as listed in West Publishing Company’s citations totaling for Wachtler four articles and for Kaye an amazing sixty-two entries. Many of those entries discussed revisions of the court system, which have changed New York’s courts in important respects.

    Wachtler’s article...

  31. Notes
    (pp. 747-778)
  32. Subject Index
    (pp. 779-798)
  33. Table of Statutes
    (pp. 799-802)
  34. Table of Cases
    (pp. 803-838)