Six months after Manhattan’s Commercial Division raised its monetary bar, other Commercial Divisions in New York are following suit and doubling their monetary thresholds, court officials announced Tuesday.
The new thresholds take effect Sept. 2 in Albany, Kings, Nassau, Onodaga, Queens and Suffolk counties and the Eighth Judicial District, which includes Buffalo. The new thresholds will range from $50,000 in Albany and Onondaga counties to $200,000 in Nassau County.
Chief Administrative Judge Gail Prudenti signed the administrative order authorizing the higher thresholds on Monday. The last time most of these thresholds were raised was in 2006. The existing $100,000 threshold in Westchester County, which was increased in 2010, and $50,000 threshold in the Seventh Judicial District, which includes Rochester, will not change.
The modified thresholds mark the latest change to Commercial Division practice based on recommendations submitted by a statewide advisory committee of litigators, judges and in-house counsel. The group is relying on a June 2012 report by the Chief Judge’s Task Force on Commercial Litigation in the 21st Century aimed at raising the division’s profile and improving efficiency for litigants and their clients.
In February, Manhattan’s Commercial Division raised its threshold from $150,000 to $500,000 to account for the higher dollar value of commercial cases and to streamline judicial caseloads.
Those same considerations drove changes outside New York County, where despite a fewer number of judges and lower caseloads, the Commercial Divisions are seeing more complex cases, increased motion practice and demand among practitioners to avail themselves of a specialized bench.
Boosting the monetary threshold is one way to make the Commercial Division dockets more manageable during a time when the prospect of additional judgeships in the division seems dim. The number of motion filings, not the number of cases, is what’s driving the docket burden, said Manhattan Commercial Division Justice O. Peter Sherwood, who sits on the advisory committee.
“The number of cases is not as important, because the caseload is the motions,” Sherwood said. “We estimate this change will reduce the number of motions filed in the Commercial Division by around 20 percent.”
Mark Zauderer, a fellow advisory committee member and a partner with Flemming Zulack Williamson Zauderer, agreed that motion practice is straining the courts.
“It takes a lot of the judges’ time, but it also requires a lot of staff time,” he said. “The only practical way to address the heavy motion practice is to adjust the threshold amount which in turn will cut down on the number of cases being handled.”
“The new jurisdictional thresholds reflect careful consideration by the advisory council of the differing needs in different counties after consulting with those involved,” Zauderer added. “As always, picking a jurisdictional threshold represents, as it did in New York County, some kind of compromise—trying to balance and preserve the resources of the division and giving access to the Commercial Division for litigants.”
When Manhattan raised its monetary bar to $500,000, some questioned the impact it would have on smaller-dollar commercial cases no longer eligible to be heard in the division, but no less complex in nature. While it’s too early to measure the impact of the increase, Sherwood said the advisory committee saw some correlation between lower-dollar disputes and trial practice.
“We had some anecdotal evidence that a disproportionate number of cases that were tried tended to be towards the low end of the threshold. The other divisions in the court are well set up for handling trials,” he said. “If the focus of our activity is motion practice with a lot of paper, it’s a different focus.”
Supreme Court Justice Orin Kitzes, who sits in Queens’ Commercial Division, where the threshold will double to $100,000, noted that most cases he’s assigned typically involve disputes of at least that amount.
“People sue for more than what they’re entitled to anyway, in most cases,” he said. “As a practicing lawyer, you’re probably better suing for more than what the case is worth. It’s always easy to amend down.”