Litigation is an adversarial practice where parties will seek to take full advantage of mistakes made by the other side. In some instances, New York’s Civil Practice Law & Rules (CPLR) and other court rules do provide limited opportunities for attorneys to be excused for their inadvertent errors. While they may be forgiven in certain situations, generally, parties must strictly adhere to the rules or face adverse consequences as highlighted in a recent New York Appellate Division, First Department case. The Court voided the plaintiff’s court order because the plaintiff failed to comply with the requirements for serving the order. While the decision involved a relatively modest issue in discovery, the rationale could apply equally to more serious matters.
What Happens When You Don’t Comply with Court Orders
In Colonial Funding Network Inc. v Finley, the defendant defaulted in a settlement agreement, as a result of which the plaintiff obtained a money judgment and began enforcement steps. When a party wants the Court to provide relief, such as to help enforce a judgment, the party must file a motion with the Court either using a Notice of Motion or an Order to Show Cause.
In a Notice of Motion, the attorney filing the motion sets the date when the motion is to be submitted by the Court and the other party has to respond. The Court is not involved in setting when and how the motion is served on the other party. In contrast, with an Order to Show Cause, the Court signs the Order, sets the date it will be heard and defines how the other side is to be notified of the motion.
An Order to Show Cause is typically used where a party needs emergency relief even before the motion can be heard. For example, it is often used when a plaintiff needs a temporary restraining order to stop the defendant from taking an action that would cause damage to the plaintiff. The Court will hear the Order to Show Cause more quickly than the Notice of Motion.
Why Hiring A Litigation Attorney Is Important
Getting the Order to Show Cause signed by the judge is only the first part of giving it effect. The party must also follow the rules set by the Court within the Order. This was the problem in the Finley case.
The plaintiff in Finley issued an information subpoena to the defendant as the first step in the process of enforcing the judgment. When the defendant did not comply, the plaintiff filed an Order to Show Cause seeking a court order compelling the defendant to comply. The Court signed the Order to Show Cause and directed that it be served on the defendant by overnight mail.
The defendant did not oppose the motion to compel, which was granted, nor did the defendant comply with the subpoena. As a result, the plaintiff moved for, and received, an order holding the defendant in contempt of Court. The defendant appealed.
The Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s decision for a simple reason. Instead of serving the initial Order to Show Cause by overnight mail as the Court required, the plaintiff served it by priority mail. Therefore, the initial order was void because the plaintiff failed to comply with service requirements and the defendant could not be held in contempt of a void order.
The result in the case is that the plaintiff now has to start again with an Order to Show Cause. This error can be rectified, albeit by spending more time and money. However, in other matters, like one involving a temporary restraining order, the damage may not be as easily repaired since the defendant would be able to continue to act in a way that caused injury.
The lesson is that parties must comply with the strict requirements of court orders and not rely on having the court excuse their mistakes.
If you are considering litigation or must defend an action, contact one of our attorneys for a consultation to discuss how we can help.