October 6, 2022 by Suzan Cherichetti Civil Procedure, Litigation, New York 0 comments
Reasonable Excuse And Meritorious Defense Lead To Vacation Of Default Judgment (NY)When a plaintiff obtains a default judgment against a defendant in New York, the fight does not end there. While the discretion ultimately remains with the court, a default judgment may be vacated when the defendant can establish a reasonable excuse along with a meritorious defense, pursuant to CPLR §5015(a)(1). In Damsky v. Williams, the Appellate Division, Second Department, recently addressed these issues in a case involving an altercation between the plaintiff and defendant, who was a Metropolitan Transit Authority operator. The defendant was operating a train and pulled into the last stop informing all passengers to exit. Plaintiff refused to leave, resulting in an altercation in which defendant struck the plaintiff. Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant and a preliminary conference was scheduled. Defense counsel failed to appear at the conference, and plaintiff was awarded a default judgment against the defendant. Defense counsel was out of the country on business when he received notice of the default judgment. Counsel subsequently filed a motion to vacate the default pursuant to CPLR §5015(a)(1), explaining that he did not receive proper notice of the preliminary conference because notice was not e-filed per court rules and the notices were sent to his former law office. Defense counsel also demonstrated that the defendant acted in self-defense since the plaintiff verbally and physically attacked him. The lower court granted the motion, vacating the judgment, and plaintiff appealed. The Second Department affirmed, finding that that the trial court properly exercised its discretion in determining that the defendant demonstrated a reasonable excuse for his default in appearing at the conference and that the defendant demonstrated a meritorious defense. Accordingly, the court upheld the vacation of the default judgment. The Damsky case provides both a reminder regarding the grounds needed to vacate a default judgment against a defendant and a warning for parties and counsel to avoid missing court conferences. Thank you to Gabriella Scarmato for her contribution to this post. Please contact Andrew Gibbs with any questions.