In Soto v Chelsea W26, LLC (2018 NY Slip Op 08170), the Appellate Division sent a message that cursory excuses for disregarding Court Orders or opposing motions will not be tolerated.
The plaintiff, Missael Soto, filed a lawsuit alleging violations of Labor Law §§ 240(1), 241(6), and 200, and common-law negligence. In April 2015, the defendants served an Answer and initial discovery demands. In November 2015, a preliminary conference was held in Queens County Supreme Court, with an Order issued, directing the plaintiff to serve a Bill of Particulars within 30 days. The plaintiff did not comply, and six months later, in May 2016, two separate Court Orders required the plaintiff to serve a Bill of Particulars and responses to the initial discovery demands on the defendants.
In June 2016, the defendants moved pursuant to CPLR 3126(3) to strike the complaint based upon the plaintiff’s failure to produce a Bill of Particulars and responses to the combined discovery demands. The plaintiff did not file any opposition to this motion. As such, by Order entered November 7, 2016, the Supreme Court granted the defendants’ unopposed motion pursuant to CPLR 3126(3) to strike the Complaint.
Then, the plaintiff moved pursuant to CPLR 5015(a)(1) to vacate the Order striking the Complaint, arguing that a law office failure resulted in the per diem attorney hired to cover the motion appearance, failing to appear in Court. But the Supreme Court denied this motion, resulting in the plaintiff appealing this decision to the Appellate Division, Second Department.
The Appellate Division affirmed the denial. To vacate an order, the plaintiff must 1) demonstrate both a reasonable excuse for the default and 2) a potentially meritorious opposition to the motion. The Appellate Division took issue with the first prong of this standard, the reasonable excuse. Regardless of whether the firm’s per diem attorney appeared on the return date, the evidence submitted by the plaintiff in support of his motion demonstrates that the plaintiff’s attorney made a conscious decision to send a per diem attorney on the motion’s return date to attempt to resolve the motion by stipulation rather than file and serve any papers in opposition. Plaintiff’s attorney’s decision not to oppose the motion constituted a strategy, not law office failure, and thus was not a reasonable excuse. The Appellate Division affirmed the Supreme Court’s denial of plaintiff’s motion to vacate the Order striking the Complaint. Thanks to George Parpas for his contribution to this post. Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.