1140 Broadway LLC v Bold Food, LLC

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1140 Broadway LLC v Bold Food, LLC 2020 NY Slip Op 34017(U) December 3, 2020 Supreme Court, New York County Docket Number: 652674/2020 Judge: Arlene P. Bluth Cases posted with a "30000" identifier, i.e., 2013 NY Slip Op 30001(U), are republished from various New York State and local government sources, including the New York State Unified Court System's eCourts Service. This opinion is uncorrected and not selected for official publication. [*FILED: 1] NEW YORK COUNTY CLERK 12/03/2020 04:04 PM NYSCEF DOC. NO. 30 INDEX NO. 652674/2020 RECEIVED NYSCEF: 12/03/2020 SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK NEW YORK COUNTY PRESENT: PART HON. ARLENE P. BLUTH Justice ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------X 1140 BROADWAY LLC, IAS MOTION 14 INDEX NO. MOTION DATE Plaintiff, 652674/2020 11/24/2020 001 MOTION SEQ. NO. -vBOLD FOOD, LLC, KBFK RESTAURANT CORP. DECISION + ORDER ON MOTION Defendants. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------X The following e-filed documents, listed by NYSCEF document number (Motion 001) 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 were read on this motion to/for JUDGMENT - SUMMARY . The motion by plaintiff for summary judgment is granted as to liability only. Background In this commercial landlord-tenant case, plaintiff (the landlord) moves for summary judgment. It claims that defendant Bold Food (the tenant) leased a portion of the twelfth floor at plaintiff’s building in Manhattan as office space. Defendant KBFK entered into a good guy guarantee in connection with the lease, which expired in February 2022. Plaintiff contends that the tenant stopped paying rent in February 2020 and eventually vacated the space on June 30, 2020, five months later. In opposition, defendants cite the ongoing pandemic as the reason the tenant stopped paying rent. They argue that performing under the contract was objectively impossible and therefore any default was excusable. Defendants also rely on the frustration of purpose doctrine to excuse the tenant’s failure to pay rent. Defendant Bold Food observes that its primary services 652674/2020 1140 BROADWAY LLC vs. BOLD FOOD, LLC Motion No. 001 1 of 6 Page 1 of 6 [*FILED: 2] NEW YORK COUNTY CLERK 12/03/2020 04:04 PM NYSCEF DOC. NO. 30 INDEX NO. 652674/2020 RECEIVED NYSCEF: 12/03/2020 involve managing and consulting for a group of restaurants and the shutdown of restaurants renders its business model unprofitable. Defendants argue in the alternative that there must be an inquest to determine the precise amount plaintiff is due. In reply, plaintiff argues that the impossibility and frustration of purpose defenses are inapplicable and fail as a matter of law. Plaintiff also insists that the guarantor must be held liable and that its damages are not disputed. Discussion To be entitled to the remedy of summary judgment, the moving party “must make a prima facie showing of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, tendering sufficient evidence to demonstrate the absence of any material issues of fact from the case” (Winegrad v New York Univ. Med. Ctr., 64 NY2d 851, 853, 487 NYS2d 316 [1985]). The failure to make such a prima facie showing requires denial of the motion, regardless of the sufficiency of any opposing papers (id.). When deciding a summary judgment motion, the court views the alleged facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party (Sosa v 46th St. Dev. LLC, 101 AD3d 490, 492, 955 NYS2d 589 [1st Dept 2012]). Once a movant meets its initial burden, the burden shifts to the opponent, who must then produce sufficient evidence to establish the existence of a triable issue of fact (Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 560, 427 NYS2d 595 [1980]). The court’s task in deciding a summary judgment motion is to determine whether there are bonafide issues of fact and not to delve into or resolve issues of credibility (Vega v Restani Constr. Corp., 18 NY3d 499, 505, 942 NYS2d 13 [2012]). If the court is unsure whether a triable issue of fact exists, or can reasonably conclude that fact is arguable, the motion must be denied (Tronlone v Lac d'Amiante Du Quebec, 652674/2020 1140 BROADWAY LLC vs. BOLD FOOD, LLC Motion No. 001 2 of 6 Page 2 of 6 [*FILED: 3] NEW YORK COUNTY CLERK 12/03/2020 04:04 PM NYSCEF DOC. NO. 30 INDEX NO. 652674/2020 RECEIVED NYSCEF: 12/03/2020 Ltee, 297 AD2d 528, 528-29, 747 NYS2d 79 [1st Dept 2002], affd 99 NY2d 647, 760 NYS2d 96 [2003]). As an initial matter, the Court grants plaintiff’s motion as to liability and rejects defendants’ reliance on the doctrines of impossibility and frustration of purpose. The Court empathizes with the many business that have been adversely affected by the ongoing pandemic; here, both the landlord and the tenant have undoubtedly faced significant hardship. The doctrine of frustration of purpose requires that “the frustrated purpose must be so completely the basis of the contract that, as both parties understood, without it, the transaction would have made little sense”(Crown IT Services, Inc. v Koval-Olsen, 11 AD3d 263, 265, 782 NYS2d 708 [1st Dept 2004]). “[T]his doctrine is a narrow one which does not apply unless the frustration is substantial”(id.). Here, the lease was for office space in a building and the tenant’s business was devastated by a pandemic. That does not fit into the narrow doctrine of frustration of purpose. Simply put, defendants could no longer afford the rent because restaurants no longer needed the management help that the tenant provides. This is not a case where the office space leased was destroyed or where a tenant rented a unique space for a specific purpose that can no longer serve that function (such as a factory that was condemned after the lease was signed or a agreeing to rent costumes for a specific play to be performed at a specific theater on specific dates but the theater burned down before the first rental date). To be clear, the Court takes no position on what circumstances might permit the implication of a frustration of purpose doctrine under a generic office lease. The Court merely concludes that it does not apply here, where the tenant rented office space, the tenant’s industry experienced a precipitous downfall and the tenant to no longer be able pay the rent. 652674/2020 1140 BROADWAY LLC vs. BOLD FOOD, LLC Motion No. 001 3 of 6 Page 3 of 6 [*FILED: 4] NEW YORK COUNTY CLERK 12/03/2020 04:04 PM NYSCEF DOC. NO. 30 INDEX NO. 652674/2020 RECEIVED NYSCEF: 12/03/2020 Similarly, the Court finds that the impossibility doctrine does not compel the Court to deny the motion. “Impossibility excuses a party's performance only when the destruction of the subject matter of the contract or the means of performance makes performance objectively impossible. Moreover, the impossibility must be produced by an unanticipated event that could not have been foreseen or guarded against in the contract” (Kel Kim Corp. v Cent. Markets, Inc., 70 NY2d 900, 902, 524 NYS2d 384 [1987]). It is critical to point out that the tenant merely provided restaurants with consulting services. It was not shut down by any public health directives. In other words, the tenant was one step removed from the governor’s public health orders relating to restaurants because their business assists restaurants.1 It appears that restaurants no longer needed assistance with human resources, payroll or accounting, not because of anything plaintiff did (or failed to do). Sometimes that happens in business—an industry changes overnight. And although restaurants were required to scale back certain operations (such as indoor dining) because of the pandemic, they were not fully shut down. Many food establishments decided to shut down because of the financial consequences from both the pandemic and the public health orders, but that does not mean there was a “destruction of the subject matter” contemplated in the contract at issue here, which was for office space on the twelfth floor of an office building. The Court is unable to find that the doctrine of impossibility has any application here. 1 To be clear, the Court takes no position on whether a restaurant could successfully rely on the doctrines of impossibility or frustration of purpose. That issue is not before the Court in this motion. 652674/2020 1140 BROADWAY LLC vs. BOLD FOOD, LLC Motion No. 001 4 of 6 Page 4 of 6 [*FILED: 5] NEW YORK COUNTY CLERK 12/03/2020 04:04 PM NYSCEF DOC. NO. 30 INDEX NO. 652674/2020 RECEIVED NYSCEF: 12/03/2020 Summary The undisputed fact is that the lease was for office space in a building and the tenant stopped making payments. Nothing in the lease provides a remedy for a situation like this. The landlord never agreed to make paying the rent contingent on the tenant being able to afford it. The Court declines to step in and unilaterally modify the parties’ contract and tell the landlord that it should not be able to enforce the agreement it signed with a tenant. And the parties included a safeguard: this landlord agreed to a good guy guaranty, thus lessening the guarantor’s risk if the tenant went out of business so long as certain obligations were satisfied. The guarantor is only responsible for rent for the time the tenant is actually in possession and had the power to return the premises to the landlord. Here, the tenant waited five months to return the premises to the landlord – yet the tenant and guarantor ask this Court to absolve them of their obligations. The Court declines to ignore a clear contractual provision designed to address the situation at issue here—where the tenant stops paying the rent and retains possession of the premises. However, the Court finds that a hearing is required to assess the amount of damages plaintiff is due. Defendants argued that the security deposit has not been deducted from the damages requested although plaintiff explains in reply that any amount it is awarded should be deducted by the amount of the security deposit. This is an indication of the lack of proof as to plaintiff’s actual damages. Plaintiff did not provide a ledger or any documentation demonstrating how it calculated the amount it seeks. While plaintiff attached the affidavit of its agent (NYSCEF Doc. No. 8), that does not show how it totaled the rent, additional rent, reasonable attorneys’ fees, any damages or interest. In fact, Mr. DiFiore asks, in the alternative, that the Court refer this matter to a special referee to fix the amount of damages. 652674/2020 1140 BROADWAY LLC vs. BOLD FOOD, LLC Motion No. 001 5 of 6 Page 5 of 6 [*FILED: 6] NEW YORK COUNTY CLERK 12/03/2020 04:04 PM NYSCEF DOC. NO. 30 INDEX NO. 652674/2020 RECEIVED NYSCEF: 12/03/2020 To the extent that defendants argue that the ongoing pandemic should constitute a “casualty” that could entitle defendants to an abatement, that claim is denied. That portion of the lease refers to physical damage, not the failure of defendants’ business to retain its clients. Accordingly, it is hereby ORDERED that the motion by plaintiff for summary judgment is granted as to liability only and there shall be a trial to determine the amount of damages due to plaintiff, and plaintiff is directed to file a note of issue on or before December 15, 2020. 12/3/2020 DATE CHECK ONE: $SIG$ ARLENE P. BLUTH, J.S.C. CASE DISPOSED GRANTED DENIED X NON-FINAL DISPOSITION X GRANTED IN PART APPLICATION: SETTLE ORDER SUBMIT ORDER CHECK IF APPROPRIATE: INCLUDES TRANSFER/REASSIGN FIDUCIARY APPOINTMENT 652674/2020 1140 BROADWAY LLC vs. BOLD FOOD, LLC Motion No. 001 6 of 6 OTHER REFERENCE Page 6 of 6