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Posted: December 22, 2013

Inability to Read or Write English Does Not Excuse Failure to Answer

On November 11, 2013, Justice Whelan of the Suffolk County Commercial Division issued a decision in OneWest Bank, FSB v. Navarro, 2013 NY Slip Op. 52053(U), denying a motion for leave to serve a late answer despite the defendant’s claim that she did not read or write English.

In OneWest Bank, the defendant claimed that she failed timely to answer because she did not understand the complaint or the legal process. The court denied her motion to file a late answer, explaining:

The excuses proffered by defendant Navarro for her delay in answering the summons and complaint are premised in part upon her inability to read or write English, her lack of knowledge and understanding of legal processes and procedures and her participation in the court scheduled settlement conferences detailed above. However, recent appellate case authorities have instructed that confusion or ignorance of the law, legal processes and/or court procedures do not constitute reasonable excuses for the failure to answer or otherwise appear. Defendant Navarro’s inability to read or write English may not serve as a reasonable excuse for her failure to answer. Persons under disabilities such as blindness or illiteracy are not per se excused from the terms of their contracts as they are obliged to employ reasonable efforts to understand the contents thereof prior to signing. A party whose mastery of English is imperfect must make reasonable efforts to have the document made clear to him or her.

(Internal quotations and citations omitted).

OneWest Bank stands as a reminder that courts can construe a reasonable excuse for failure to answer very narrowly.

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