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Volume 9 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 47

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessment review, small claims (disclosure) - Civil Practice Law and Rules, § 3120; Real Property Tax Law, § 732:

Disclosure or discovery is not applicable to small claims assessment review proceedings.

We are asked whether the representative of a petitioner in a small claims assessment review proceeding must comply with a Request to Produce served upon him by the town. A Request to Produce is a civil litigation disclosure device to compel the production of a document or thing for inspection, copying, testing or photographing (CPLR, § 3120).

Pre-trial disclosure is an important element of civil practice, and extensive and detailed provisions relating thereto are provided in Article 31 of the CPLR. The intent of the Legislature in providing for disclosure, or discovery, as it is often called, is to “advance the function of the trial to ascertain the truth and to accelerate the disposition of suits” (Rios v. Donovan, 21 A.D.2d 409, 411,250 N.Y.S.2d 818, 820 (1st Dept. 1964); Allen v. Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, 21 N.Y.2d 403, 235 N.E.2d 430, 288 N.Y.S.2d 449 (1968)).

All the various uniform court acts allow for limited disclosure by order of the court (Uniform Civil CourtAct, § 1804; Uniform District Court Act, § 1804; Uniform Justice CourtAct, § 1804; New York City Civil Court Act, § 1804). However, Title 1-A of Article 7 of the RPTL, which provides for small claims assessment review, does not make any provision for disclosure, nor is there any such provision in the rules promulgated by the Office of Court Administration relating to small claims assessment review (22 NYCRR 202.58). Rather, the intent of the Legislature in enacting Title 1-A, as indicated in the memorandum in support of the bill, was “to provide a simple, efficient and inexpensive method for the residential property owner to obtain prompt review of his assessment.” Indeed, the same memorandum noted the “undue burden” imposed on a property owner by the “complexity and cost” of tax certiorari proceedings under Title 1 of Article 7. The “complexity and cost” are at least partially due to the requirements relating to the exchange of appraisals and other disclosure devices used in those proceedings.

Even in small claims cases heard pursuant to the above-cited uniform court acts, disclosure is rarely permitted (Siegel, New York Practice, p. 820). According to Professor Siegel in his Practice Commentary relating to section 1804 of the New York City Civil Court Act (McKinney’s Consolidated Laws, Volume 29A, p. 288):

Whatever either side has to know can be developed at the trial itself. (This is not to say that disclosure would not help preparation. Of course it would. It is merely to say the stakes involved in a small claims case are too low to make it fair or feasible to go to the same lengths of pretrial preparation pursued in bigger cases.)

Similarly, section 732 of Title 1-A provides that small claims hearings:

shall be conducted on an informal basis in such manner as to do substantial justice between the parties according to the rules of substantive law. The petitioners shall not be bound by statutory provisions or rules of practice, procedure, pleading or evidence. (emphasis added)

Accordingly, since the Legislature has made no specific provision for pretrial disclosure in the small claims assessment review provisions of Title 1-A, and, in fact, has made a clear statement of its contrary intent in section 732(2), we conclude that disclosure is not available there.

August 30, 1989