In 1995, following a successful pilot program in the New York County Supreme Court, the statewide court administration created a Commercial Division in that county and in Monroe County to handle business-related cases only. Since then the program has expanded to eight additional counties: Albany, Erie, Onondaga, Kings, Queens, Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester.
Here’s an overview of the Commercial Division from its website:
The Commercial Division serves as a vehicle for resolution of complicated commercial disputes. Successful resolution of these disputes requires particular expertise across the broad and complex expanse of commercial law. Because disclosure in commercial cases can be complicated, protracted and expensive, particularly in light of electronic discovery, the Division makes use of vigorous and efficient case management. The court sets deadlines and enforces them, managing discovery as needed to protect the rights of the parties to fair disclosure while minimizing expense and delay. Motion practice, especially in the form of motions to dismiss or for summary judgment, is particularly common in commercial cases. The caseload of the Division is thus particularly demanding, requiring of the court scholarship in commercial law, experience in the management of complex cases, and a wealth of energy.
The popularity of the Commercial Division among commercial litigators and the business community is driven in large part by the business-law expertise of its judges. The ability to tap such expertise, and to achieve a relatively fast resolution, is particularly useful to business owners and their counsel who get caught up in a business divorce.
The Commercial Division’s rules specify that cases involving dissolution of corporations, partnerships, limited liability companies, limited liability partnerships and joint ventures qualify for assignment to the Commercial Division. Counsel for the party who initiates the dissolution is required to submit a brief signed statement justifying the Commercial Division designation. If initiating counsel fails to file the dissolution petition as a Commercial Division case, the respondent’s counsel may write a letter to the Administrative Judge within 10 days after receipt of the RJI (Request for Judicial Intervention) requesting a transfer into the Commercial Division.
A number of Commercial Divisions, including those in New York, Kings, Nassau and Westchester Counties, also have established ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) programs that permit the judges to require the parties to participate in mediation using a roster of qualified volunteer lawyers. Mediation permits the combatants to air their grievances and objectives face-to-face in a controlled setting that can foster creative solutions to the difficult issues involved in separating or otherwise resolving their business interests.
Addendum January 24, 2008: I received an interesting message in response to this entry from a lawyer representing a respondent in a dissolution case. The petitioner’s counsel did not file the proceeding as a commercial case. The initiating order to show cause sought a preliminary injunction which was conferenced with the assigned non-Commercial Division judge and scheduled for a hearing. The respondent’s counsel then timely delivered a letter to the Administrative Judge requesting transfer into the Commercial Division. Although the Administrative Judge acknowledged that the case qualified for assignment to the Commercial Division, the request was denied on the grounds that the assigned judge had already spent time on the case; that the case was not complex; that few assets were involved; and based on the petitioner’s allegation that the delay resulting from re-assignment was prejudicial. Although the Commercial Division Rule states that cases meeting the specified criteria “will be heard” in the Commercial Division, it also provides that assignment decisions by the Administrative Judge are final and subject to no further administrative review or appeal.
Update February 25, 2012: In his State of the Judiciary address earlier this month, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced the formation of a task force chaired by former Chief Judge Judith Kaye which will examine and make recommendations for solutions to what the New York Law Journal describes as “delays and overcrowded dockets that plague the Commercial Division in an effort to keep business cases from fleeing to other venues.” The Commercial Division now operates in 11 counties including the 10 named above plus Putnam County.