Personal Liability Based on Commission of a Tort Doctrine in New York
The 'commission of a tort' doctrine permits personal liability to be imposed on a corporate officer for misfeasance or malfeasance, i.e, an affirmative tortious act; personal liability cannot be imposed on a corporate officer for nonfeasance, i.e., a failure to act
In Robles v. Palazzolo Realty Corp. (66 AD3d 417, 418, 886 N.Y.S.2d 388 [1st Dept 2009]), an apartment building tenant brought an action against the landlord and landlord's president, alleging negligence in the maintenance of the apartment building.
The First Department held that the conduct the plaintiff attributed to the landlord's president "amounts to nothing more than nonfeasance, for which he bears no liability as a corporate officer" (id.).
Similarly, in MLM LLC v. Karamouzis (2 AD3d 161, 162, 767 N.Y.S.2d 620 [1st Dept 2003]), the First Department held that "we reject plaintiff's claim that defendant, a principal of the restaurant corporation, engaged in allegedly tortious conduct, for which he should be held individually responsible.
Such conduct amounts, at most, to nonfeasance, for which defendant is not liable." In Michaels v. Lispenard Holding Corp. (11 AD2d 12, 14, 201 N.Y.S.2d 611 [1st Dept 1960]), officers of a corporate owner were not individually liable for water damage to property of occupants of the building.
The Court held that "it is clear from the pleadings, the bill of particulars and exhibits that the corporate owner was not divorced from all control, and equally clear that the officers did not personally make the repairs . . . . Something more than the mere status of corporate officer must exist before individual liability can attach. . . ." (id.).