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Attorney(s) for Defendant:
Ingram Yuzek Gainen Carroll & Bertolotti, LLP

DEFENDANT’S VERDICT Architect Malpractice – Alleged negligent advice regarding zoning – Plaintiff unable to develop top floors of Manhattan building because of Sliver Rule.

New York County, NY

The plaintiff is a real estate developer who was interested in purchasing properties in Manhattan for development. It contended that it purchased a building on Warren Street having relied upon the defendant architect’s erroneous advice that six new floors could be added to the existing building. The defendant argued that it had never entered into a written agreement to provide architectural advice to the defendant and that it had merely written to the plaintiff that it was incumbent upon it to seek clearance from the Building Department of the City of New York prior to purchasing the building. The building department declared that the plaintiff’s intention to build upward could not be accomplished because of the Sliver Rule. As a result, the plaintiff commenced this action alleging architectural malpractice.

The plaintiff and the defendant had a prior professional relationship when the defendant advised the plaintiff in a written opinion that a building the plaintiff was interested in purchasing on Chambers Street could not be developed because it was designated a landmark building. Subsequently, the plaintiff informally discussed with the defendant its interest in purchasing the subject property on Warren Street. The defendant urged the plaintiff in writing to present its plans to the building department. The plaintiff did not do so prior to purchasing the building. The building department later objected to the plaintiff’s plan to develop the top five floors of the building because of the Sliver Rule which was intended to prevent narrow buildings from being taller than adjacent buildings.

The plaintiff contended that the defendant was negligent in advising it that the building was suitable for adding the new floors. The defendant argued that the level and quality of its relationship with the plaintiff was de minimis, and did not rise to the level of that of an architect and its client. The plaintiff demanded between $3,000,000 and $4,000,000. After a nine day trial, which was interrupted by Hurricane Sandy, the jury returned a defense verdict, finding that the defendant did not breach the standard of care and that it was not foreseeable that based upon the defendant’s informal advice, the plaintiff would purchase the building.

Although the jury did not reach the issue of damages, the parties were prepared to present expert testimony on the subject. The plaintiff’s real estate expert opined that the value of the property had declined after the purchase from $5,000,000 to $4,000,000. The defendant’s real estate expert opined that the real estate market increased after the purchase and that the plaintiff, had, in fact, purchased during a boom. The expert contended that the value of the building increased from $5,000,000 to over $6,000,000. The defendant’s architecture expert opined that the advice rendered by the defendant was above the standard of care. This was argued against by the plaintiff’s expert architect.The jury found for the defense.

Plaintiff's Architecture expert: Craig Whitaker from New York, NY. Plaintiff's Real Estate expert: Timothy King from New York, NY. Defendant's Architecture expert: Paul Segal from New York, NY. Defendant's Real Estate expert: Peter DeChesser from New York, NY.

Assouline Ritzi, LLC vs. Edward I. Mills & Associates. Index no. 602552/06; Judge Debra A. James, 12-05-12.

Attorney for plaintiff: Marin Goodman LLP in Harrison, NY. Attorney for defendant: Robert Banner of Ingram Yukek Gainen Carroll in New York, NY.

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