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The Importance of Assuring Subject Matter Jurisdiction Exists Prior to Commencing a Case in Federal Court

The recent case, HICA Education Loan Corp. v. Meyer, 12 Civ. 4248 (S.D.N.Y. 2014), underscores the need of parties to assure that a Federal Court has proper subject matter jurisdiction prior to commencing an action within the Federal Courts. Almost two (2) years after HICA Education Loan Corp. commenced an action against Amy Meyer seeking payment on a student loan in the amount of $72,722.61, the Court held, sua sponte, that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the matter. In this respect, one is reminded of then Second Circuit Judge (now Justice) Sotomayor’s decision in Handelsman v. Bedford Village Associates, L.P., where the Second Circuit dismissed a case for want of subject matter jurisdiction after a bench trial was had before the Southern District of New York. Handelsman v. Bedford Village Associates, L.P., 213 F.3d 48 (2d Cir. 2000).

The Court’s reasoning in HICA was twofold. First it held that it lacked diversity jurisdiction over the matter, as the amount being sought was below $75,000.00. Second, it held that there was no federal question involved as “virtually all district courts that have considered the question of whether a collection action for nonpayment of a HEAL loan arises under federal law have concluded that federal question jurisdiction is lacking.”

It is of note that the docket sheet revealed that HICA had already brought a motion for summary judgment against Ms. Meyer which was unopposed. Further, Ms. Meyer previously submitted an answer to the complaint and raised affirmative defenses, none of which were for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The lesson from HICA is simple. Prior to commencing a matter in Federal Court an experienced attorney must determine whether a basis exists for subject matter jurisdiction. If, at any point during the litigation, it becomes apparent that the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over the action, the case may be dismissed, either on motion or sua sponte.

Posted in: Commercial

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First Department Issues Important Decision on Custody

Perhaps one of the most difficult decisions a Court will make in the area of family law are those regarding custody. The Court makes its determination on custody by examining what is in the best interests of the child. How the Court determines what is in the child’s best interests often involves a very detailed factual analyses of varying factors, including, but not limited to, the current custody arrangement, the current home environment, the financial status of the parties, the ability of each parent to provide for the emotional and intellectual development, whether the custodial parent will encourage a good relationship with the non-custodial parent, and the wishes of the child.

On May 1st, 2014, the First Department issued a decision, Melissa C.D. v. Rene I.D. , which is a good example of how the Court applies the various factors in determining the best interests of the child. In Melissa C.D., it appeared that the status quo (the child’s living with her father), the neutral expert’s opinion that the child remain with the father, and the child’s express wish to remain living with her father (the child was 14 and so her opinion was given substantial weight), were the prominent factors in the First Department’s decision. The Court held it would not be in the child’s best interest to remove her “against her wishes, from her father and brother in Manhattan, where she has always lived, and placing her with her mother and her mother’s lover, a situation that she is not comfortable with, on Long Island, in a community that she does not know.”

Interestingly, in an apparent nod to recent case law, holding that the parent who is more likely to encourage a good relationship with the other parent should be granted custody, the First Department to specifically held that the father’s conduct herein “did not rise to the level of deliberately frustrating, denying or interfering with the parent rights of the mother so as to raise doubts about his custodial fitness.” Thus, one cannot understate the emphasis the Courts are giving to that factor now as, even where the child is living with the father, the neutral has issued an opinion that the child should live with the father, and the child has expressed a desire to stay with the father, the Court still made sure to make this specific finding.

Significantly, although the First Department reversed the trial court and granted the father sole custody, it still cautioned the father to “consider the effects of his comments to the children, to refrain from interfering from the children’s relationship with the mother and to do all that is within his power to encourage and support their relationship with her.” This further buttresses the importance of this one factor.

Posted in: Matrimonial

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Why experienced matrimonial counsel is necessary in a divorce.

Perhaps you are thinking about filing for divorce.  Perhaps your spouse has just informed you that she/he wants a divorce.  Going through a divorce is one of the most painful processes someone will experience.  The divorce laws can be complex and the manner in which they are implemented may be different depending upon certain variables, including, but not limited to the county in which an action is brought.

While many believe that they can represent themselves in a divorce, this is generally not a good idea.  Children and assets such as homes, retirement accounts, business interests, and other financial assets can make a divorce quite complex.  Add in the emotional aspects of losing a spouse and representing oneself,pro seis usually a recipe for disaster.

Retaining an experienced matrimonial counsel to represent you in a divorce could be invaluable to your divorce.  Experienced matrimonial counsel will aid you in obtaining maintenance (alimony), child support, and equitable distribution of marital property.  If you are the “monied spouse” (sometimes a misnomer), seasoned matrimonial counsel can assist you in minimizing your expenses.  If you have a professional license or own a business or are married to someone who has a professional license or owns a business, the business or professional license may be marital property subject to equitable distribution.  Thus, hiring experienced matrimonial counsel could aid you in protecting these assets or fighting for your rights.

We have represented celebrities, professional athletes, business owners, finance and other professionals and their spouses in near every type of divorce and family matter imaginable.  We have represented these individuals in New York, Bronx, Kings, Queens, Richmond, Westchester, Putnam, Rockland, Nassau, and Suffolk Counties in New York and throughout New Jersey as well.  Thus, we at the Law Offices of Steven E. Rosenfeld, P.C. have the experience necessary to protect and fight for your rights in a divorce.  Call us to schedule a consultation today.

Posted in: Matrimonial

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The Importance of Pre-Nuptial Agreements for Same Sex Married Couples in New York

While the Supreme Court has declared the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) to be dead, as Chief Justice Roberts noted in his dissent, DOMA is not quite dead yet. States which have not legalized Same Sex Marriages are not required to recognize a Sister State’s Same Sex Marriage. This creates a myriad of problems for same-sex couples.

The equality of a same sex marriage may depend upon which State the spouses are located in at a given moment. In fact, in order to see the full implications of DOMA, all one needconsider is what would have been the outcome in the Terri Schiavo case, had Terri been a partner of a same-sexmarriage,rather than a heterosexual marriage. Under DOMA, inasmuch as Florida does not recognizesame-sex marriage, it would not have had to give legal effect to Terri’s marriage. Hence, the Court may have allowed Terri’s parents, not Terri’s spouse, to make decisions on her behalf. In this respect, DOMA would have been a matter of life and death.

A prenuptial agreement may serve to protect many of the rights which a state not recognizing a same sex marriage would otherwise deny spouses. Living will and health care proxies could be included with the agreement so as to assure the spouse’s rights in the event the other spouse ends upon terminally ill within a State which does not recognize same-sex marriage. Language with respect to adoption of children could be included to assure a spouse’s right to access to children of the marriage, in the event a State chooses not to recognize such rights. Choice of law and waiver of personal jurisdiction language could be included as well, in order to assure that some Court has jurisdiction to dissolve the marriage.

Thus, entering into a prenuptial agreement is something every same-sex couple should seriously consider. Given DOMA, a prenuptial agreement could be used not only in the event the marriage is to be dissolved, but also, and maybe more importantly, it could be used to protect a spouse’s rights in the event a same-sex partneris in a State which does not recognize same-sex marriage.

Posted in: Matrimonial

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