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Rodriguez v. Central Parking System of New York

10/18/2005

Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.


This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the printed Official Reports.


This action for breach of a bailment contract was commenced more than three years after the plaintiff's vehicle was stolen from defendant's full-service garage. Defendants Central Parking System of New York, Inc., and Meyers Parking System, Inc., move for summary judgment (CPLR 3212). Defendants urge that the plaintiff's claim, although based in contract and facially subject to a six year statute of limitations, is time barred because case law mandates that all claims based upon breach of a bailment contract are governed by a three-year negligence statute of limitations. For reasons set forth below, to the extent the claim seeks contract damages, the court finds that the precedents urged no longer represent sound law and the former rule must be set aside as superseded by subsequent decisions of the Court of Appeals.


Background


Plaintiff Adriano M. Rodriguez owned a Lexus automobile, which was operated by one Ney Dominguez with plaintiff's permission. In the early morning hours of June 2, 1997, Dominguez parked plaintiff's vehicle at a full-service parking garage managed and operated by defendant CPSNY, which garage was owned by defendant Meyer. The operator received a claim ticket and was told to leave his vehicle with the keys in it. Several minutes later, after the operator and his companion entered a nearby club, they were told that the car had been stolen. The manager of the garage subsequently determined based upon his investigation and videotapes of the theft that a garage employee had been involved with the theft.


Plaintiff commenced this action in February of 2001, asserting causes of action for breach of a bailment contract and for violation of General Obligations Law §5-325, seeking to recover the value of his vehicle from defendants.


Applicable Statute of Limitations


This case brings up for review the single issue of the statute of limitations to be applied in bailment cases and, more specifically, defendants' contention that all such cases are governed by the three-year negligence statute (CPLR 214 ) and not by the six-year "contractual obligation or liability" statute (CPLR 213 ). Defendant's request for dismissal rests upon a 1970 decision of the Appellate Term, First Department, which found that a cause of action in bailment stemming from the theft of a plaintiff's vehicle while in defendant's custody invoked the common law duty of care and issues of a bailee's negligence, and was governed by a three-year statute of limitations, notwithstanding that the relationship of the parties was based in contract (Tischler Roofing & Sheet Metal Works Co. v. Sicolo Garage Inc., 64 Misc 2d 825, 825 [App. Term 1st Dept. 1970], "In determining the applicable Statute of Limitations, the courts look to the basic essentials of recovery. If the gravaman of the cause of action is predicated on tort, the three-year negligence statute controls"; accord, Atlas Assurance Company, Ltd. v. Barry Tire & Service Co., 3 AD2d 787 [3d Dept. 1957], "plaintiff concedes that, despite the contract, it may not recover without establishing negligence in connection with the theft. It is settled that the plaintiff may elect to proceed on either the theory of breach of contract or in tort. * * * While the duty to use due care to protect the automobile from theft arose from contract, the action is still one for negligence").


Although these precedents have not been explicitly overruled as they relate to full-service garage bailments, it cannot

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