New York State Court of Appeals
Legal Representatives — Rules of Statutory Construction
Matter of Kese Industries v. Roslyn Torah Foundation
Appealed from the Second Department
Background: This appeal requires the court to interpret whether the term “legal representative,” which ordinarily denotes the executor or administrator of an estate, may encompass a party’s retained legal counsel in a pending action. This question comes to the court in the context of Nassau County Administrative Code section 5-51.0, which sets out the duty of a tax lien purchaser to provide notice that a tax deed will be issued unless the right to redeem the lien is exercised.
Ruling: The court notes that, going back to the late 1800s, it has held that the words “legal representatives” mean executors or administrators, and that meaning will be attributed to them in any instance unless there be facts existing which show that the words were not used in their ordinary sense, but to denote some other and different idea.
Even in the rare instances where the term has been found to signify something other than “executors or administrators,” the meaning has not extended to a party’s attorneys. The federal courts have consistently interpreted the meaning to exclude attorneys qua attorneys. Thus, the term “legal representative” as used in the Nassau County Administrative Code does not include a foreclosure attorney. In terms of the rules of statutory interpretation in New York, the term “legal representatives,” defined as “executors and administrators,” fits logically between “heirs” and “assigns,” insofar as all three groups have been assigned the rights and duties of the property owner and all are associated with surrogate’s court practice.
The court reverses the Appellate Division and remits the case to supreme court. The mortgagee’s attorney in a pending foreclosure action concerning the same property is not a “legal representative” within the meaning of section 5-51.0 of the Nassau County Administrative Code; the court-appointed referee in a foreclosure action is not an interested party entitled to notice under section 5-51.0.
Kenneth Cooperstein for the appellants; John H. Hall Jr. for respondents