Alexandris v Messmer
Decided on June 23, 2004
Civil Court of the City of New York, Kings County
OLGA ALEXANDRIS, Plaintiff,
WAYNE MESSMER & SILVIA MESSMER, Defendants.
Eileen N. Nadelson, J.
In the year 2000, Plaintiff Landlord instituted a summary holdover proceeding against Defendants, tenants pursuant to an oral lease agreement. That action resulted in the following "so ordered" stipulation of settlement:
Final judgment of possession, warrant to issue forthwith. Execution stayed to
8/31/00 on condition Respondents make the following payments:
$4800 by 3/15/00; $800 on the 1st day of April, May, June, July, Aug, 2000.
In the event of default, warrant to execute after service of 5 day notice of default.
If payments made as directed above, Petitioner waives claim for August & Sept 1999
@ $800 per month. Respondent waives return of security, if any.
No issue of repairs at this time.
This stipulation was allocuted and so- ordered on March 3, 2000.
Rather than paying the amounts stated in the stipulation, Defendants (Respondents in the holdover proceeding) vacated the premises within a few days of signing the stipulation.
Plaintiff instituted this present action basing her claim on a breach of the so-ordered stipulation. Plaintiff is now seeking the amounts Defendants agreed to pay in order to stay execution of the warrant of possession. Because none of the facts are in dispute, the parties agreed to waive testimonial evidence and have the matter submitted to the court for decision.
It is well settled that the interpretation of a contract is a matter of law for the court. Gassman v. Rothlein, 275 A.D. 2d 731, 713 N.Y.S. 2d 208 (2d Dept. 2000). In the instant matter, the only issue to be resolved is whether Defendants obligation under the stipulation is absolute or is conditioned upon the staying of the execution of the warrant of possession.
The stipulation baldly states that the warrant of execution is stayed only on the condition that Defendants pay the sums indicated on the prescribed dates. The stipulation does not state that Respondents acknowledge any monetary debt. From the express promise to pay upon the [*2]happening of an event (the staying of the execution of the warrant), an inference may be drawn that the parties did not intend or impliedly agree that payment should be made even if the event does not occur. Mascioni et al. v. A.B. Miller, Inc., 261 N.Y. 1, 184 N.E. 473 (1933).
It is undisputed that the warrant was not stayed until August 31, 2000, because Defendants vacated the premises and Plaintiff acquired possession within a few days of the signing of the stipulation. Therefore, the condition that would render Defendants liable did not occur.
A purely executory promise whereby the promisor agrees to do a particular thing, upon the happening of a particular contingency, imposes different obligations and creates different rights from those under an instrument which is intended to transfer a present right upon the execution of the instrument. Addison v. Enoch, 48 A.D. 111, 62 N.Y.S. 613 (1st Dept. 1900). When a right is subject to a condition, the obligation to pay does not accrue until the condition has been met. Kassner & Co. V. City of New York, 46 N.Y. 2d 544, 415 N.Y.S. 2d 785 (1979). Such promises become enforceable only when the condition to payment is fulfilled. Laberge v. Town of Inlet, 79 A.D. 2d 1070, 436 N.Y.S. 2d 98 (3d Dept. 1981).
Pursuant to the stipulation that is subject of this action, Defendants only agreed to pay a total of $8800 if the execution of the warrant was stayed until August 31, 2000. Because they surrendered possession prior to the date the first payment would be due, there existed no need for a stay of execution of the warrant. Therefore, Defendants' obligation to pay, and Plaintiff's right to receive, such funds did not accrue.
However, the so-ordered stipulation further states that Plaintiff would only waive her claim to the rent for August and September, 1999, if the conditional payments were made. This portion of the stipulation provides Plaintiff relief in the amount of $1600, calculated at $800 per month for those two months, because it is uncontroverted that such payments were not forthcoming.
Plaintiff has argued that this interpretation of the contract was not what was intended and that payment was an automatic obligation of Defendants; Defendants have argued that under the stipulation no payment would be due unless the warrant of eviction be stayed. However, the court is compelled to uphold stipulations of settlement entered into in open court, and such agreements are strictly construed. Only where there is cause sufficient to invalidate a contract, such as fraud, collusion, mistake or accident, will a party be relieved from the consequences of a stipulation made during litigation, William E. McClaim Realty, Inc. v. Rivers, 144 A.D. 2d 216, 534 N.Y.S. 2d 530 (3d Dept. 1988, and the court is the sole arbiter as to whether an agreement is clear or ambiguous. WWW Assocs. v. Giancontieri, 77 N.Y. 2d 157, 565 N.Y.S. 2d 440 (1990). Therefore, the court cannot grant a party any relief that would be contrary to the precise terms of the stipulation as the court finds them.
The court notes that Plaintiff brought this action only for breach of the stipulation, and [*3]has not made a specific claim for rent outstanding due at the time possession of the premises was returned to her.
Based on the forgoing, the court awards judgment to Plaintiff in the amount of $1600, plus costs and disbursements.
Dated: June 23, 2004
EILEEN N. NADELSON, J.C.C.