GLOBAL LIBERTY INS. CO. v. JONATHAN LEWIN, M.D., P.C.

601499/2017.

2017 NY Slip Op 50897(U)

GLOBAL LIBERTY INSURANCE CO., Plaintiff, v. JONATHAN LEWIN, M.D., P.C., AS ASSIGNEE OF MARY KING, Defendant.

Supreme Court, Nassau County.


Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Jason Tenenbaum, Esq. , for Plaintiff.

Rachel Drachman, Esq. , for Defendant.


KAREN V. MURPHY, J.

Defendant moves this Court for an Order dismissing the complaint on the ground that this matter has already been adjudicated in arbitration, and that the pleading fails to state a cause of action. Defendant also seeks to consolidate this matter with a Bronx County matter identified by Supreme Court Index No. 25976/2016E (Motion Sequence 001).

Plaintiff opposes Motion Sequence 001 and cross-moves for an Order granting plaintiff summary judgment adjudging and declaring that defendant is not entitled to no-fault coverage for the motor vehicle accident that occurred on December 17, 2014 (Motion Sequence 002). Motion Sequence 002 is unopposed.

With regard to Motion Sequence 001, that branch seeking to consolidate this action with a Bronx County action entitled Global Liberty Insurance Co. v. FJ Orthopedics and Pain Management, PLLC, a/a/o Mary King is denied. The Bronx County action was disposed on May 1, 2017 by judgment granting Global Liberty Insurance Company of New York a default judgment declaring that defendant FJ Orthopedics and Pain Management, PLLC is not entitled to reimbursement for services performed on defendant's assignor (Mary King) for alleged injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident that occurred on December 17, 2014.

The action pending before this Court involves the same assignor, Mary King, and results from the same motor vehicle accident.

That branch of defendant's motion seeking dismissal of this action on the ground that arbitration has already been held is also denied. Defendant contends that "the matter was submitted for Arbitration. In light of the fact that the claims herein have already had an opportunity to be adjudicated, and both parties had a fair hearing, it would be a waste of the parties' time and resources . . . and a waste of this Courts (sic) time and resources and against the interests of judicial economy, for the parties to reset litigation of the subject claims and begin the process anew in the supreme courts."1

Contrary to defendant's contention, Insurance Law § 5106 (c) and 11 NYCRR 4.10 (h)(1) (ii) expressly provide that either party to a matter submitted to arbitration has the right to a de novo determination of the dispute in the event that the master arbitrator's award equals or exceeds $5,000, exclusive of interest and attorneys' fees (Matter of Greenberg, 70 N.Y.2d 573 [1987]; AutoOne Insurance Company v. Eastern Island Medical Care, P.C., 141 A.D.3d 499 [2d Dept 2016]; Allstate Insurance Company v. Nalbandian, 89 A.D.3d 648 [2d Dept 2011]; Progressive Insurance Company v. Strough, 55 A.D.3d 1402 [4th Dept 2008]).

Moreover, there is no evidence presented that the policy in question contained a binding arbitration clause, nor has defendant ever moved for confirmation of the arbitration award, which, if confirmed, would be accorded res judicata effect (see Aetna Casualty & Surety Company v. Mantovani, 240 A.D.2d 566 [2d Dept 1997]).

That branch of defendant's motion seeking dismissal of the complaint for failure to plead with particularity in accordance with CPLR § 3013 is also denied. This Court has reviewed the complaint filed in this action and finds that it sets forth the facts underlying the cause of action seeking declaratory judgment with sufficient particularity to give notice of plaintiff's claim. The series of transactions and occurrences intended to be proved, including the billing and verification demands that were sent and not complied with, are adequately set forth (Di Mauro v. Metropolitan Suburban Bus Authority, 105 A.D.2d 236, 239 [2d Dept 1984]).

Although defendant does not specifically refer to CPLR §3211 (a)(7) in claiming that plaintiff fails to state a cause of action, the Court will address defendant's claim as one made pursuant to the statute.Defendant has answered; however, this branch of its motion is not time-barred by CPLR § 3211 (e).

When deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to CPLR § 3211(a)(7), the court must afford the complaint a liberal construction, accepting all facts as alleged in the complaint to be true, and according the plaintiffs the benefit of every favorable inference (see Marcantonio v Picozzi III, 70 A.D.3d 655 [2d Dept 2010]). The sole criterion on a motion to dismiss is "whether the pleading states a cause of action, and if from its four corners factual allegations are discerned which taken together manifest any cognizable action at law a motion for dismissal will fail" (Guggenheimer v Ginzburg, 43 N.Y.2d 268, 275 [1977]; see also Miglino v. Bally Total Fitness of Greater New York, Inc., 20 N.Y.3d 342, 351 [2013]; Leon v Martinez, 84 N.Y.2d 83, 87-88, [1994]; Sokol v Leader, 74 A.D.3d 1180, 1180-1181 [2d Dept 2010]; Gershon v Goldberg, 30 A.D.3d 372, 373 [2d Dept 2006]). "Whether a plaintiff can ultimately establish its allegations is not part of the calculus in determining a motion to dismiss" (EBC I, Inc. v Goldman, Sachs & Co., 5 N.Y.3d 11, 19 [2005]).

"A court is, of course, permitted to consider evidentiary material submitted by a defendant in support of a motion to dismiss pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a)(7) [citation omitted]" (Sokol, supra at 1181). "When evidentiary material is considered, the criterion is whether the proponent of the pleading has a cause of action, not whether he has stated one, and, unless it has been shown that a material fact as claimed by the pleader to be one is not a fact at all and unless it can be said that no significant dispute exists regarding it . . . dismissal should not eventuate" (Guggenheimer, supra at 275; see also Vertical Progression, Inc. v. Canyon Johnson Urban Funds, 126 A.D.3d 784 [2d Dept 2015]; YDRA, LLC v. Mitchell, 123 A.D.3d 1113 [2d Dept 2014]; Korsinsky v. Rose, 120 A.D.3d 1307 [2d Dept 2014]).

"Whether or not issue has been joined, the court, after adequate notice to the parties, may treat the motion as a motion for summary judgment" (CPLR § 3211 [c]). Without proper notice, a "court's sua sponte treatment of the motion as one for summary judgment [would] deprive[ ] plaintiff of the' opportunity to make an appropriate record' and thus thwart[ ] the very purpose of CPLR 3211 (c)" (Mihlovan v. Grozavu, 72 N.Y.2d 506, 508 [1988], quoting Rovello v. Orofino Realty Co., 40 N.Y.2d 633, 635 [1976]).

"There are nevertheless three circumstances under which a court's failure to provide CPLR 3211 (c) notice may be overlooked. One circumstance is when CPLR 3211 (c) treatment is specifically requested not by one party, but by all of the parties, or is at least requested by the same party that is aggrieved by the summary judgment determination. A second circumstance is when a dispute involves no questions of fact, but only issues of law argued by all parties, such as in the context of declaratory judgment actions involving an issue of statutory construction or the application of an unambiguous contractual provision. The third circumstance is when the respective submissions of both parties demonstrate that they are laying bare their proof and deliberately charting a summary judgment course [citations omitted]" (Hendrickson v. Philbor Motors, Inc., 102 A.D.3d 251, 258-259 [2d Dept 2012]).

In this case, defendant claims that it complied with plaintiff's verification request, and submits an affidavit from an individual employed as a Billing Manager for MD Capital Advisors, the third-party billing company that handles all no-fault billing for FJ Orthopedics PLLC, purporting to establish that the surgery center that hosted the surgical procedure performed on Mary King responded to Global Liberty's verification requests. Defendant also attaches a copy of three small photographs that are claimed to be the surgical photographs requested by plaintiff Global Liberty.

Accordingly, defendant lays bare its proof, arguing that this action should be dismissed because it complied with plaintiff's verification requests; as established in arbitration, the surgical photos were provided to plaintiff by the surgery center where the procedure was performed; "[w]hether they received the photos from FJ Orthopedics, from Doshi Diagnostic or from Excel Surgery Center should be of no importance as long as they have the photos in their possession."

In response to defendant's motion, plaintiff cross-moves for summary judgment (Motion Sequence 002). Plaintiff's motion was e-filed and served on April 6, 2017; defendant's motion was e-filed on March 15, 2017. Both Motion Sequences 001 and 002 bore return dates of April 7, 2017. On April 7, 2017, both sequences were adjourned to April 17, 2017, on which date they were marked submitted for the Court's consideration. Defendant does not oppose plaintiff's summary judgment motion. Thus, it would not thwart the purpose of CPLR § 3211 (c) to convert defendant's motion to one for summary judgment. Plaintiff, having responded to defendant's motion with its own motion for summary judgment, has not been deprived of an opportunity to make an appropriate record (cf. Mihlovan, supra). Moreover, defendant has not been deprived of an opportunity to supplement its proof by responding to plaintiff's summary judgment motion; plaintiff's summary judgment motion was adjourned to April 17, 2017, but defendant apparently chose not to oppose it. Accordingly, the Court will now consider plaintiff's summary judgment motion.

It is well recognized that summary judgment is a drastic remedy and as such should only be granted in the limited circumstances where there are no triable issues of fact (Andre v. Pomeroy, 35 N.Y.2d 361[1974]). Summary judgment should only be granted where the court finds as a matter of law that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact (Cauthers v. Brite Ideas, LLC, 41 A.D.3d 755 [2d Dept 2007]). The Court's analysis of the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, herein the defendant (Makaj v. Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 18 A.D.3d 625 [2d Dept 2005]).

A party moving for summary judgment must make a prima facie showing of entitlement as a matter of law, offering sufficient evidence to demonstrate the absence of any material issues of fact. (Winegrad v New York Univ. Med. Center, 64 N.Y.2d 851 [1985]; Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 N.Y.2d 557 [1980]).

"A no-fault claim is overdue if it is not paid or denied within thirty [30] days of receipt (see Insurance Law § 5106 [a]; 11 N.Y.C.R.R. 65-3.8 [a][1] & [c]) unless, within fifteen [15] business days of receipt of the claim, the insurer requests additional verification (see 11 N.Y.C.R.R. 65-3.8 [b][3])" (Westchester Medical Center a/a/o Salvatore Dipietro v GEICO, 2011 NY Slip Op 30862 [Sup Ct, Nassau County 2011]; A.B. Medical Services PLLC a/a/o David Ruiz v. GEICO General Insurance Company, 22 Misc 3d 1116A, 880 N.Y.S.2d 222 [Dist Ct, Nassau County 2008]).

Plaintiff contends that "[i]t is uncontroverted that the MRI films were never received" pursuant to plaintiff's written verification requests; therefore, the no-fault billing is not overdue, and it should be declared that plaintiff does not owe defendant no-fault benefits.

In support of its motion, plaintiff submits, inter alia, the summons, complaint, and answer, the written verification requests made to defendant Lewin and to Doshi Diagnostic Imaging Services for the MRI films, and the affidavit of plaintiff's no-fault claims adjuster.

Based upon the affidavit of Regina Abbatiello, plaintiff's no-fault claims adjuster, plaintiff establishes that the surgery was performed on March 24, 2015, and the bill from defendant was received on April 9, 2015. The bill was delayed pending receipt of operative photographs and MRI films. By written request dated March 20, 2015, plaintiff requested, inter alia, "a copy of the R/Shoulder MRI films" from Doshi Diagnostic Imaging Services. Apparently, plaintiff did not receive the MRI films, and it sent a second written verification request to Doshi dated April 20, 2015.

Not having received the MRI films, plaintiff, by written requests dated April 28, 2015 and May 28, 2015, notified defendant and requested a copy of the right shoulder MRI films from defendant. The letters are addressed to Jonathan Lewin MD PC, and they state in relevant part, "[a]lso awaiting a copy of the R/Shoulder MRI films from Doshi Diagnostic MRI which were requested from the MRI facility and the doctor's office. Once received the claim will be reviewed and processed." Ms. Abbatiello's affidavit avers that the MRI films were never received from either Doshi or from defendant Lewin.

Based upon the foregoing, plaintiff has established its prima facie entitlement to summary judgment as a matter of law that the claim is not overdue, since the additional verification remains outstanding, and that defendant is not entitled to reimbursement for no-fault benefits a/a/o Mary King related to the motor vehicle accident that occurred on December 17, 2014 (St. Vincent's Hospital of Richmond v. American Transit Insurance Company, 299 A.D.2d 338 [2d Dept 2002]; 11 NYCRR 65.15 [g][1][i], [2][iii]).

Defendant does not oppose the instant cross-motion; therefore, defendant fails to raise a triable issue of fact as to the failure to respond to the request for the right shoulder MRI films.

Even considering defendant's submissions upon Motion Sequence 001 as opposition to the instant summary judgment motion, defendant still fails to raise a triable issue of fact sufficient to defeat plaintiff's motion.

The affidavit of Mike Manzo, billing manager for MD Capital Advisors, states that MD Capital Advisors is the third party billing company for FJ Orthopedics PLLC, which is not a party to this action. In fact, the affidavit appears to have been submitted in connection with the prior arbitration entitled FJ Orthopedics PLLC/Mary King, Applicant and Global Liberty Insurance Company of New York. Thus, it is unknown to the Court how Mr. Manzo's affidavit is germane to defendant Lewin named in this action. Assuming, however, that his affidavit is relevant, because it relates to the assignor in this matter (Mary King), Mr. Manzo speaks to the issue of the surgical photographs, which is not the subject of the summary judgment motion. Moreover, his affidavit is vague as to "the verification response" and "requested documents" allegedly submitted to plaintiff on June 2, 2015; however, the response was likely the letter on FJ Orthopedics letter head, signed by Mike Manzo, dated May 21, 2015, which is annexed to Manzo's affidavit. That letter states that, "your request for MRI films and color photos of surgey (sic) for the above mention (sic) claim is overly burdensome as neither our client FJ Orthopedics nor the patient Mary King does not (sic) have access to the actual films . . . The films are in Doshi Diagnostic's possession . . . therefore, we enjoin you to obtain the actual films . . . with the attached medical authorizations signed by Mary King."

Defendant's submissions do nothing to raise a triable issue of fact as to the failure to provide the MRI films, nor do the submissions controvert the established fact that plaintiff attempted to get the films directly from Doshi first, by sending a first request and then a follow-up request, and when it received no films, plaintiff notified defendant of the request. Plaintiff sent the verification requests directly to Doshi, and plaintiff also timely informed the applicant, the defendant in this action, of the nature of the verification sought, and from whom it was sought, after the initial requests went unsatisfied (Doshi Diagnostic Imaging Servs. v. State Farm Insurance Co., 16 Misc.3d 42 [App Term 2d Dept 2007]; see also Advantage Radiology, P.C. v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, 55 Misc.3d 91 [App Term 2d Dept 2017]).

The fact that FJ Orthopedics, albeit not a party to this action, may have provided plaintiff with a HIPPA authorization for the films does not constitute a response to the request for verification. Plaintiff did not need a HIPPA authorization to obtain the films (Eagle Surgical Supply, Inc. v. GEICO Insurance Co., 41 Misc.3d 134[A][App Term 1st Dept 2013]), and in any event, FJ Orthopedics' statement made in its May 21, 2015 letter that the request "is overly burdensome" is evidence of its lack of motivation to satisfy plaintiff's verification request.

Defendant has failed to raise a material, triable issue of fact; therefore, plaintiff's summary judgment motion is granted.

Submit a judgment on notice.

The foregoing constitutes the Order of this Court.

FootNotes


1. Defendant has submitted a master arbitration award in another matter, but plaintiff has submitted the correct master arbitration award pertaining to the parties in this action.

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