In the beginning of the 1970's the increasingly
acute problem of the lack of available housing for
the poor was thrust to the forefront of the Court’s
Although not new to New York City –
the Bowery had an estimated 10,000 homeless men early
in the century – the problem now assumed a new
dimension, with whole families evicted or otherwise
forced out of their living quarters. In the early
1980's, a series of cases declared that the homeless
had a right to shelter at City expense, if necessary.
A massive City shelter program was already underway,
with buildings such as armories and City-leased residential
hotels separately serving single men, single women
and families. In a continuing line of cases started
in the 1980's, the Court considered issues ranging
from the maximum legal waiting period for shelter
placement, to the quality and amount of shelter food,
to the benefits available to the homeless who had
been diagnosed as HIV positive. By 1995, the City
counted a shelter population of approximately 25,000,
and the lower courts continued to consider questions
regarding the rights and benefits due the homeless.
As social conditions and standards changed,
new questions before the Court involved that most
basic of social units, the family. After a landmark
case in the 1950's afforded juveniles certain legal
rights of their own, the Court was left to ponder
the respective rights and responsibilities of the
non-traditional family. The Court set forth the child
support responsibilities and unwed parents, and the
visitation rights of men who fathered children through
sperm donation. One case described the visitation
rights of a grandparent, another the validity of adult
The subject of asbestos-related lung
diseases arose in a 1993 case involving former workers
at the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard. In this class action,
the plaintiff class of injured workers was awarded
$73 million in damages.
New medical technology resulted in
a court decision regarding the sufficiency of DNA
testing in paternity cases. These and other cases
challenged the Court to alter a definition of “family”
that had governed the law for centuries. In the area
of products liability, the Court gave new consideration
to the parameters of individual and corporate responsibility.
In a landmark case, manufacturers of the drug DES were
found liable for injuries sustained by a plaintiff
who had been damaged in utero after her mother had
ingested that prescription drug. In a ruling that
substantially altered the legal doctrine of privity,
or the necessity for a direct relationship between
an injured person and the defective product’s
manufacturer, the Court held that the defendant, who
had sold DES during the relevant period, was liable
for its market share of the drug even absent proof
that it had sold the specific pills in question.
In 1975, the Court ordered
the preservation of New York’s Grand Central Terminal
as a City landmark. Today, despite a dispute over air
rights, Grand Central remains as both a New York historic
treasure and a vital transportation center.
One of the Court’s more unusual cases involved
a challenge by the donor to the Museum of the American
Indian, to the proposed transfer of his donated collection
into the stewardship of the Smithsonian Institute. The
book collection at issue had been turned over by the
Museum to a local library.
Another case of interest involved
allegations of libel brought by a manufacturer of biological
products which had used primates for research. The defendant
was an internationally-known scientist who had publicly
criticized the corporation’s plans for acquiring
and using more chimpanzees. The Court held that the
letter in question, which accused the plaintiff of “scientific
imperialism,” was an expression of opinion and
thus not defamatory.
In a case that reverberated throughout the City’s
criminal justice system, the Court held that a delay
more than 24 hours between a person’s arrest by
the police and the arraignment in court was presumptively
unnecessary and, unless explained, constituted a violation
of a prisoner’s legal rights. In that case, one
person had been held for 94 hours before arraignment
on charges of peddling an umbrella without a license and
another for 98 hours on a shoplifting charge.
Throughout the 1980's and 1990's, issues of popular culture
continued to engage the Court’s attention.
In one unusual case involving a hit play, Six Degrees
of Separation, the plaintiff sued the play’s author,
claiming that the author had appropriated elements of
the plaintiff’s life. The Court denied that claim.
In a similar action, the author of a best-selling book
sued by a psychiatrist whose name had been used for
a fictional character. As American fashion designers
gained in popularity, the Court heard cases involving
superstar models and agencies.
In a unique case, the Court
was faced with a decision involving the rightful ownership
of the America’s cup yachting trophy.
This Court’s subsequent ruling gave the trophy
too the San Diego Yacht Club, holding that the Club’s
unusual catamaran design was permitted under the race’s
charter. The Court noted that “for 140 years,
challengers and defenders have spent fortunes...to gain
any speed advantage...to enhance their chance of victory.
That is the very essence of America’s Cup competition.”
Stars & Stripe catamaran with a space-age solid
|Other sports cases that have come before
the Court involved baseball pitcher Warren Spahn, baseball
owner George Steinbrenner, football great Joe Namath and
wheelchair athletes seeking to enter marathon competitions.
In a case involving the dispute over George Brett’s
use of pine tar on a baseball bat in a game between the
New York Yankees and the Kansas City Royals, an Appellate
Division Justice rendered his decision with the traditional
umpire’s call: “Play ball!”
Division, First Department, 1974 – Seated left
to right: Associate Justices Theodore R. Kupferman,
Arthur Markewich, Presiding Justice Owen McGivern, Associate
Justices Emilio Nunez, Francis T. Murphy Jr. Standing
left to right: Associate Justices George Tilzer, Aron
Steuer, Vincent A. Lupiano, Louis Capozzoli, Myles J.
Division, First Department, 1987 - Standing left to
right: Associate Justices Richard W. Wallach, Ernst
H. Rosenberger, E. Leo Milonas, John Carro, Sidney H.
Asch, Bentley Kassal, Betty Weinberg Ellerin, George
Bundy Smith, Joseph P. Sullivan, Theodore R. Kupferman,
Presiding Justice Francis T. Murphy, Associate Justices
Leonard H. Sandler, David Ross
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