There are a few different ways that New York State allows a person to vacate judgments and reopen cases. There are also some practical ways that it can be done outside of the law through negotiation. I will touch upon these. But first and most importantly, the New York Civil Practices Legal Rules (CPLR) states under rule 5015(a) (IV), that if there was no jurisdiction, then a judgment is improper. This means that if a person or business was improperly served, then there is no jurisdiction, and if there is no jurisdiction, the judgment is improper and must be vacated. In these cases, a meritorious defense is unnecessary, as is a reasonable excuse; the judgment can simply be vacated based on a lack of jurisdiction.
The second potential way of vacating a judgment is by filing a motion and using CPLR 5015(a) (I), which is almost the same statute as 5015(a) (IV). The only major difference between the two is that a person would have to provide both a reasonable excuse and a meritorious defense. In order to provide a meritorious defense, a person must have a legitimate reason as to why they do not believe they owe the debt in question. It could also be argued that the amount of the money judgment is incorrect. The most commonly used reasonable excuse is simply lack of notice. Lack of notice can be used as a reasonable excuse even if service was technically proper, but the person did not actually receive notice. This could happen if the notice was left on a person’s door but it fell off, or if the notice was left with a doorman who never ended up delivering it to the person. Another reasonable excuse is having received misinformation by opposing counsel in regard to the necessity of responding to the judgment.
It is important to be aware of the One Year from Judgement Rule, which states that the motion must be filed within one year of the judgment being entered and the notice given. Alternatively, a motion to have a judgment vacated can be filed under CPLR 317, which states that the motion must be filed within one year after the defendant learned of the judgment. With that being said, it must be filed within five years total from the entry of judgment. This means that if a judgment was entered in 2013 and the recipient did not find out about it until 2017, that person can file a motion under CPLR 317 since it would be less than five years since the judgment was actually entered.
As is the case under CPLR 5015(a) (I), a person must have a reasonable excuse and a meritorious defense when filing a motion using CPLR 317. If a person can demonstrate both, then the judgment can be vacated. The courts in New York are fairly liberal when it comes to vacating judgments because the goal is for them to be decided upon based on merits, rather than default.
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