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Private Client Group v. Markey – Case Brief Summary (New York)

In Private Client Group v. Markey (2010 NY Slip Op 31038[U] [Apr. 15, 2010]), Nassau County Surrogate's Court had before it a claim for declaratory relief against an estate.

In holding that, where it otherwise has jurisdiction, Surrogate's Court "can issue the equivalent of a declaratory judgment even though that discrete species of action known as the declaratory judgment action may be reserved to the Supreme Court," the court noted:

"The Surrogate's Court is a court of limited jurisdiction, whose subject matter jurisdiction is conferred solely by the State Constitution and by statute. As to matters within its scope of jurisdiction, it has power to make complete and equitable disposition of a case. However, these powers of disposition cannot provide the surrogate with any broader jurisdictional authority than that specified in statutes (Matter of D. D., 64 AD2d 898, 408 NYS2d 104 [2d Dept 1978], appeal dismissed 49 NY2d 879, 405 NE2d 233, 427 NYS2d 990 [1980], appeal dismissed 49 NY2d 916 [1980]). . . .

"SCPA § 209[10] provides that 'in the exercise of its jurisdiction, the [Surrogate's] court shall have all of the powers that the supreme court would have in like actions and proceedings including, but not limited to, such incidental powers as are necessary to carry into effect all powers expressly conferred herein.' That this jurisdictional grant is broad does not completely answer the question (see Matter of Langfur, 198 AD2d 355, 355-356, 603 NYS2d 576 [2d Dept 1993] (where the court held that 'there is no need to address the issue of whether the surrogate's court may also grant a declaratory judgment').

"In Carmel v. Shor, 250 AD2d 475, 476, 672 NYS2d 866 [1st Dept 1998], the court held that the Surrogate's Court could grant the relief requested, 'albeit not necessarily in the form of a declaratory judgment.' The First Department relied upon the decision in Matter of Greenwold (236 AD2d 400, 401, 653 NYS2d 625, [2d Dept 1997] ). In that case, the Second Department held:

" 'We find that, although . . . the decedent's widow, initiated this matter in the form of an action for a declaratory judgment in the Supreme Court, it was proper for the Supreme Court to transfer it to the Surrogate's Court, in which there was a separate proceeding pending. The issues are relevant to the settlement of the affairs of the decedent, and the Surrogate's Court could grant all the relief requested without issuing a declaratory judgment' " (id. at 6, 8 ).