Fourth Department Holds Lower Court Dismissal Doesn’t Stack Up

Most of the action concerning New York’s Labor Law takes place in the “downstate” region, primarily in the 5 boroughs, areas constituting the First and Second Appellate Division Departments.  Refreshingly and on occasion, we have decisions from the Fourth Department, reminding us that the Labor Law is indeed a state-wide endeavor. 

In a recent decision, the Fourth Department modified a Supreme Court, Onondaga County decision that denied plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment as to the Labor Law §§ 240(1) and 241(6).  The lower Court also denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment to dismiss plaintiff’s Labor Law § 200 and common-law negligence causes of action against them. 

In Jesmain v. Time Cap Dev. Corp., 2024 NY Slip Op 01444 (4th Dep’t 2024), plaintiff alleges that he sustained injuries at a construction site while moving a stack of drywall panels.  At the time of the injury, plaintiff and a supervisor for the general contractor (one of the aforementioned defendants), were moving a stack of drywall panels that were leaning against a wall and partially obstructing the doorway of a room that plaintiff needed to access in order to perform HVAC work.  As plaintiff and the supervisor moved several of the drywall panels from their position against the wall, the panels tilted too far and fell, striking plaintiff’s ankle. 

On appeal:

  • Plaintiff contended that the lower Court erred in granting the portions of defendants’ motion with respect to Plaintiff’s Labor Law § 240(1) claim;
  • Plaintiff contended that the lower Court erred in granting the portions of defendants’ motion with respect to Plaintiff’s Labor Law § 241(6) claim; and,
  • Defendants contended that the lower Court erred in denying the portions of their motion with respect to Plaintiff’s Labor Law § 200 claim, and common-law negligence claim.

In its decision, the Fourth Department disagreed with the lower Court’s decision that dismissed plaintiff’s Labor Law § 240(1) claim.  The lower Court held that although the drywall that fell on plaintiff was located on the floor and was not being hoisted or secured, issues of fact exist as to whether Labor Law § 240(1) applies to the facts of this case.  The Fourth Department cited to a First Department Decision, Padilla v. Touro Coll. Univ. Sys., 204 A.D.3d 415, 416 (1st Dep’t 2022), which, in short, determined that based on the record, it could not be determined whether plaintiff’s injuries were proximately caused by the lack of a safety device of the kind required by the statute.

With regard to plaintiff’s Labor Law § 241(6) cause of action (premised on an alleged violation of 12 NYCRR 23-2.1(a)(1) governing “Storage of material or equipment.”), the Fourth Department disagreed with the lower Court decision dismissing the claim, as it found questions of fact as to whether the drywall was stored safely at the construction site, and whether the drywall was a material pile that blocked a passageway.  The Fourth Department again cited the Padilla decision from the First Department. 

Notably, without further explanation, the Fourth Department noted that “a question of fact exists whether plaintiff was a recalcitrant worker.”  

As to plaintiff’s Labor Law § 200 claim the Fourth Department agreed with the lower Court’s decision that denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment.  The Fourth Department noted that this cause of action asserted in the pleadings that the placement of the drywall panels constituted a dangerous condition and that the plaintiff’s injuries resulted, in combination with their placement, from the way the drywall panels were moved. 

With Labor Law § 200 claims based on an allegedly dangerous condition, the defendants were required to show that they did not create or have actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition.  Even if the defendants had established that the subject incident was a result of a dangerous condition only, plaintiff raised a triable issue of fact via submission of an expert affidavit that opined the placement of the drywall was dangerous. 

Where Labor Law § 200 claims are based on the way the work was performed (“means and methods”), liability only attaches where the defendant exercised supervisory control over the work.  Defendants failed to meet their initial burden in their motion for summary judgment as to this claim because their own submissions raise a question of fact whether plaintiff was injured while following the instructions of a supervisor employed by one of the other non-general contractor defendants.[1]

The Jesmain decision can be found here.

The Padilla First Department decision, cited to by the Fourth Department, can be found here. 

For additional information, contact Philip D. Priore, Esq. and/or Michael J. Shields, Esq.

This article was prepared by McCormick & Priore, P.C. to provide information on recent legal developments of interest to our readers.  This publication is in no way intended to provide legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship.  All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of McCormick & Priore, P.C.

[1] A bit of clarification here.  Plaintiff, at the time of the incident was moving sheetrock with an employee from the general contractor.  The general contractor’s motion for summary judgment was made on behalf of multiple entities, one of which was the property owner, the other the general contractor at the site. The Fourth Department ultimately concluded that the property owner could not be held liable under Labor Law § 200 and common-law negligence, but the general contractor would remain in the case due to a question of fact as to its liability.