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Posted: December 31, 2013

Default Judgment Against Corporation in Favor of its Sole Employee Vacated

On December 4, 2013, Justice Schweitzer of the New York County Commercial Division issued a decision in Karian v. Physician’s Choice, Inc., 2013 NY Slip Op. 33219(U), where the president and sole employee of a corporation sued the corporation and caused it to default.

In Karian, plaintiff was the “president and sole employee” of the defendant closely-held corporation. In 2010, three separate actions were filed in Nassau County relating to the corporation–two competing derivative claims and an action for dissolution. In 2012, plaintiff brought an action in New York County against the corporation for unpaid salary. Because plaintiff was the sole employee of defendant, he caused defendant to default and judgment was entered against the defendant. One of defendant’s other shareholders then moved to intervene and to vacate the default judgment. The court granted the motion, writing:

CPLR Rule 5015 provides the grounds upon which a court may grant relief from judgment. CPLR 5015(a)(l) allows relief from judgment because of excusable default. To vacate a default, a party must show that an excusable default and a meritorious claim or defense. Mr. Karian is the president and sole employee of PCI and, as such, only he can mount a defense for the corporation. Mr. Karian had the power to prevent the default, but chose to take no action in the corporation’s defense. Therefore, the court finds that the default is excusable because the failure of the corporation to proceed is wholly the fault of the Plaintiff himself.

We suppose that the idea of having the corporation’s sole employee sue the corporation and taking a default judgment seemed clever at the time, but surely one would be hard pressed to find a court that would let the plaintiff get away with it. Justice Schweitzer did not.

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