Discussion on defaults/appearancesJuly 30, 2020

Deutsche Bank Natl. Trust Co. v Hall, 2020 NY Slip Op 04292 (2d Dept. 2020)

As relevant here, “[a]n action is commenced by filing a summons and complaint” (CPLR 304[a]). “A plaintiff appears in an action merely by bringing it” (Siegel & Connors, NY Prac § 110 [6th ed Dec. 2019 Update]). “The defendant appears by serving an answer or a notice of appearance, or by making a motion which has the effect of extending the time to answer” (CPLR [*2]320[a]). Where, as here, service was effected pursuant to CPLR 308(2), “the [defendant’s] appearance shall be made within thirty days after service is complete” (CPLR 320[a]; see CPLR 3012[c]).

“After having been served with process, the defendant who wants to avoid a default must respond in a proper and timely manner” (Vincent C. Alexander, Practice Commentaries, McKinney’s Cons Laws of NY, CPLR C320:1). “Subdivision (a) of CPLR 320 specifies three ways by which the defendant can appear in the action: (1) service of an answer; (2) making a motion which has the effect of extending the time to answer; or (3) serving a notice of appearance” (id.).

“The answer, of course, is defendant’s pleading in response to a complaint” (id.see CPLR 3011, 3018). “A defendant who has defaulted in answering admits all traversable allegations in the complaint, including the basic allegation of liability” (Glenwood Mason Supply Co., Inc. v Frantellizzi, 138 AD3d 925, 926; see Rokina Opt. Co. v Camera King, 63 NY2d 728, 730; Cole-Hatchard v Eggers, 132 AD3d 718, 720).

Service of a notice of motion to dismiss a complaint pursuant to CPLR 3211(a) extends a defendant’s time to answer the complaint (see CPLR 3211[f]). Such a motion must be made “before service of the responsive pleading is required” (CPLR 3211[e]), or it is untimely (see Bennett v Hucke, 64 AD3d 529, 530).

Finally, a notice of appearance is “a simple document that notifies the plaintiff that defendant is appearing in the action” (Vincent C. Alexander, Practice Commentaries, McKinney’s Cons Laws of NY, CPLR C320:1). A notice of appearance “is the response generally reserved for the situation in which the plaintiff’s process consisted of a summons with notice as authorized by CPLR 305(b)” (id.). “Service of a notice of appearance will avoid a default, at least temporarily, and put the plaintiff to the task of serving a complaint within 20 days” (id.see CPLR 3012[b]). Under those circumstances, “[a]fter the complaint has been served, the defendant, within 20 days, should either serve an answer or make a motion that extends the time to answer” (Vincent C. Alexander, Practice Commentaries, McKinney’s Cons Laws of NY, CPLR C320:1; see CPLR 3012[a]).

A defendant’s failure to respond to a summons and complaint within the required time “amounts to what CPLR 3215 . . . calls a failure to appear” (Siegel & Connors, NY Prac § 293; see U.S. Bank N.A. v Gilchrist, 172 AD3d 1425, 1427). “When a defendant has failed to appear . . . the plaintiff may seek a default judgment against him [or her]” (CPLR 3215[a]).

“On a motion for leave to enter a default judgment against a defendant based on the failure to answer or appear, a plaintiff must submit proof of service of the summons and complaint, proof of the facts constituting the cause of action, and proof of the defendant’s default” (L & Z Masonry Corp. v Mose, 167 AD3d 728, 729; see CPLR 3215[f]; Liberty County Mut. v Avenue I Med., P.C., 129 AD3d 783, 784-785). “To defeat a facially sufficient CPLR 3215 motion, a defendant must show either that there was no default, or that [he or she] had a reasonable excuse for [his or her] delay and a potentially meritorious defense” (Liberty County Mut. v Avenue I Med., P.C., 129 AD3d at 785; see Clarke v Liberty Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 150 AD3d 1192, 1195).

In this case, the plaintiff submitted evidence which showed that Hall had been served with the summons and complaint pursuant to CPLR 308(2), and that he failed to appear or answer within the time allowed. In addition, the plaintiff submitted evidence demonstrating that it was entitled to foreclose the subject mortgage due to Hall’s default in repaying the subject loan.

In opposition to the plaintiff’s prima facie showing, Hall first contends that he did not default in appearing. In this regard, Hall asserts that he made an “informal appearance” during the course of this action and was, therefore, not in default. He contends that “even if [an] informal appearance’ is made after the expiration of the time to answer or move specified in CPLR 320(a) . . . judgment by default is precluded.” Hall’s contention is without merit.

It is true that “[i]n addition to the formal appearances listed in CPLR 320(a), the law [*3]continues to recognize the so-called informal’ appearance” (Siegel & Connors, NY Prac § 112). “It comes about when the defendant, although not having taken any of the steps that would officially constitute an appearance under CPLR 320(a), nevertheless participates in the case in some way relating to the merits” (id.).

Although “an informal appearance can prevent a finding that the defendant is in default, thereby precluding entry of a default judgment” (Vincent C. Alexander, Practice Commentaries, McKinney’s Cons Laws of NY, CPLR C320:4), this is only true when the participation constituting the informal appearance occurred within the time limitations imposed for making a formal appearance (see Taylor v Taylor, 64 AD2d 592, 592; see also Jeffers v Stein, 99 AD3d 970, 971; Stewart v Raymond Corp., 84 AD3d 932, 933; Parrotta v Wolgin, 245 AD2d 872, 873). Indeed, even service of a formal “notice of appearance will not protect the defendant from entry of a default judgment if, after service of the complaint, the defendant does not timely make a CPLR 3211 motion or serve an answer” (Vincent C. Alexander, Practice Commentaries, McKinney’s Cons Laws of NY, CPLR C320:1). Accordingly, an informal appearance, without more, does not somehow absolve a defendant from complying with the time restrictions imposed by CPLR 320(a) which govern the service of an answer or the making of a motion pursuant to CPLR 3211 (see CPLR 3215[a]; U.S. Bank N.A. v Slavinski, 78 AD3d 1167, 1167). Contrary to Hall’s contention, this Court has never held otherwise; to do so would effectively eliminate any need for compliance with the time limitations imposed by CPLR 320(a), and render those statutory provisions meaningless for all practical purposes (see City of Newburgh v 96 Broadway LLC, 72 AD3d 632, 633; Carlin v Carlin, 52 AD3d 559, 560-561; cf. CPLR 3215[a]).

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