Striking a Jury Demand in a Mechanic’s Lien Foreclosure Action

Litigation

Mechanic’s lien foreclosure actions are regularly filed by general contractors seeking to simultaneously: (1) obtain equitable relief in the form of a foreclosure on a mechanic’s lien filed in connection with construction work performed on real property, and (2) obtain legal relief in the form of monetary damages for breach of contract and quantum meruit. Under such circumstances, in which a contractor pursues both equitable and legal relief within the same action, the contractor irrevocably waives its right to a jury trial on all of its claims. As the case law underscores, if a contractor seeks both equitable and legal relief within a mechanic’s lien foreclosure action, a demand for a trial by jury made in conjunction with filing a Note of Issue, is likely to be stricken by the court in favor of a bench trial on all claims.

Under New York law, “[i]t is well settled that by ‘deliberately joining legal and equitable causes of action arising out of the same transaction,’ a party waives its right to a trial by jury.” Haber v. Cohen, 25 Misc. 3d 1216(A) 906 (Sup. Ct., Kings Co. 2009) (quoting Mirasola v. Gilman, 104 A.D.2d 932 (2d Dep’t 1984)) aff’d, 74 A.D.3d 1282 (2d Dep’t 2010). Moreover, this well settled doctrine has been articulated within the specific context of a mechanic’s lien foreclosure action. See, e.g., Edward Joy Co. v. McGuire & Bennett, Inc., 221 A.D.2d 891, 892 (3d Dep’t 1995) (“[B]y joining [a] legal [cause of action for breach of contract] and [an] equitable cause of action [to foreclose on a mechanic’s lien] arising out of the same transaction [i.e., a construction project], plaintiff waived its right to a trial by jury.”).

Indeed, the Second Department has made clear that “[u]nder established principles, the joinder of claims for equitable and legal relief amounts to a waiver of the right to demand a jury trial.” Magill v. Dutchess Bank & Trust Co., 150 A.D.2d 531, 532 (2d Dep’t 1989); see also, e.g., Petra Cablevision Corp. v. Teleprompter Corp., 49 A.D.2d 888, 888 (2d Dep’t 1975) (“The joinder by plaintiff of legal and equitable claims constituted a waiver of its right to a trial by jury.”).

Accordingly, when confronted with circumstances in which a party joins claims for equitable and legal relief arising out of the same action, the Second Department has demonstrated a tendency to affirm a lower court’s decision to strike a jury demand. See, e.g., Anethesia Assocs. of Mount Kisco LLP v. N. Westchester Hosp. Ctr., 59 A.D.3d 481 (2d Dep’t 2009) (affirming striking of jury demand when the plaintiff joined claims for equitable and legal relief); Ayromylooi v. Staten Island Univ. Hosp., 7 A.D.3d 475 (2d Dep’t 2004) (same); Whipple v. Trail Props., Inc., 261 A.D.2d 470 (2d Dep’t 1999) (same). Similarly, the Second Department tends to reverse a lower court’s decision to deny a motion to strike a jury demand under such circumstances. See, e.g., Bryant v. Broadcast Music, Inc., 88 A.D.3d 631 (2d Dep’t 2011) (reversing denial of motion to strike jury demand when the plaintiff joined claims for equitable and legal relief); Yi v. Marcy Realty Co., 291 A.D.2d 368 (2d Dep’t 2002) (same); Tanenbaum v. Anchor Sav. Bank, 95 A.D.2d 827 (2d Dep’t 1983) (same).

Moreover, “[o]nce the right to a jury trial has been intentionally lost by joining legal and equitable claims, any subsequent dismissal, settlement or withdrawal of the equitable claim(s) will not revive the right to jury trial.” Bryant, 88 A.D.3d at 632 (quoting Anethesia Assocs. of Mount Kisco LLP, 59 A.D.3d at 482); see also, e.g., Whipple, 261 A.D.2d at 470 (“The subsequent amendment of the complaint to eliminate the equitable cause of action and demand for equitable relief did not revive that right [to a jury trial].”); Mirasola, 104 A.D.2d at 932 (“The subsequent removal of the equitable claims from the case through a partial settlement did not revive that right [to a jury trial].”); Sepinski v. Bergstol, 81 A.D.2d 860, 861 (2d Dep’t 1981) (“Plaintiffs who make an intentional choice to join equitable and legal causes based upon the same transaction cannot be relieved from their waiver of the right to a trial by jury.”).

In conclusion, a contractor prosecuting a mechanic’s lien foreclosure action in New York State Supreme Court seeking both equitable and legal claims irrevocably forfeits its right to a trial by jury, notwithstanding any subsequent dismissal, settlement or withdrawal of the equitable claims.

Accordingly, based upon the prevailing precedent in the Second Department, a court is likely to strike the contractor’s jury demand and order a bench trial on all claims.

For more information on the mechanic’s lien foreclosure process or to better understand your rights under New York State lien and construction law with regards to home improvement and/or commercial construction projects, please contact Adam H. Koblenz.

*The author acknowledges Steven Alizio, Jr., J.D. Candidate 2016, for his contribution to this article.

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