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We live in a litigious world in which grasping lawyers try and extend liability to everyone they can.  In 2014 a lawyer representing the estate of a retired East Islip administrator sued his former district and administrative association (i.e., all members individually), in regards to an alleged lapse in a life insurance policy that occurred back in 1991!   The estate sued the East Islip Administrators’ Association, comprised of the individual members, plus the school district, for $100,000, the purported valued of the life insurance policy.

CAS is committed to defending our members in union related matters whether the source is the school district or not.  Our legal team aggressively defended our members and moved to dismiss the lawsuit.  The New York state Supreme Court granted the CAS lawyers’ motion to dismiss the complaint against the association and its individual members.  As part of CAS’s extensive legal research our attorneys were able to find and cite a relatively unknown and obscure legal precedent.

The Supreme Court sided with CAS by finding the holding in Martin v. Curran (303 NY 276 [1951]) dispositive as to all causes of action alleged against the Association. In Martin, the Court of Appeals held that because a voluntary unincorporated association has no existence independent of its members, a plaintiff cannot maintain a cause of action against the association unless the plaintiff can show that each individual member approved or ratified the alleged conduct that was the basis of the lawsuit. This holding subsequently has become known as the “Martin Rule.”

The plaintiff responded to the Association’s motion to dismiss by citing several cases decided in the Third and Fourth departments which refused to extend the “Martin Rule” to causes of action based on negligence. The association was being sued on six causes of action, one of which was alleged negligence in the administration of the purported life insurance policy.

In what is believed to be a case of first impression within the Second Department, the Court adopted the argument and position advanced by CAS legal counsel, i.e., that the cases cited by the Plaintiff should not be followed, and that the rationale behind the Martin Rule should be applied to all causes of actions.   The Court agreed and in dismissing the suit against the Association held that;

“Contrary to plaintiff’s contention the Martin decision makes no distinction between contract and negligence claims.”

Further, the Court agreed with the Association’s legal argument that the plaintiff’s negligence claim was based on the same set of facts and theories as their breach of contract claim and since plaintiff failed to identify a legal duty separate and apart from the alleged contract itself, the claim was not actionable under the law.

We are pleased by the Court’s decision and the precedent that it sets within the Second Department.  In the litigious world we live in you never know where the next lawsuit will come from.  CAS remains committed to protecting the rights of our local units and executive boards, as well as all our members.

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