Court Decides If Default Judgment Was Warranted
In an action to collect unpaid tolls, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey moved without opposition for default judgment against N.Y.& N.J. V. Amigo Tr. LLC.
To obtain default judgment, a plaintiff must establish proper service; the defendant’s default; and the facts constituting the plaintiff’s claim, either through a properly verified complaint or an affidavit on personal knowledge. Plaintiff must, on pain of dismissal, take proceedings for the entry of default judgment within one year of the defendant’s default. The Court found that the PA satisfied neither requirement.
The PA filed suit in January 2020 , served Amigo in February 2020 and April 2020 and filed its corresponding affidavits of service in February 2020 and May 2020, respectively. Thus, at the very latest, Amigo’s deadline to respond fell in July 2020. Amigo did not respond, putting it in default. But PA did not move for default judgment until April 2022, nearly two years later. The Court therefore was required under CPLR 3215(c) to dismiss the action as abandoned unless “sufficient cause [was] shown” why the action should be permitted to continue. But thePA did not even acknowledge the untimeliness of its motion, much less provide the satisfactory justification required to avert dismissal.
Even if the motion were timely, the PA did not satisfactorily established the facts constituting its claim, as CPLR 3215(f) required. PA relied on a verified complaint and documentary evidence (the unpaid toll ledger) attached to its motion papers. But the facts stated in these two documents did not agree. The complaint alleged in several places that Amigo failed to pay required tolls on 731 occasions. The list of violations stated that Amigo failed to pay required tolls on 824 occasions over the same period described in the complaint. The complaint alleged that the PA was entitled to collect $54,668 in unpaid tolls and corresponding fees, but the violations list stated instead that Amigo owed $56,916 —a difference that could not be accounted for merely by the differing number of violations given in the two documents.
Moreover, neither violations figure could accurately represent the number of unpaid-toll violations (and fees) for which Amigo could be held liable, because both figures did not account for the governing statute of limitations.
The PA’s action was predicated on Amigo having violated Unconsolidated Laws § 6802. That statute requires payment of all tolls set by PA on its vehicular crossings, and makes it unlawful to evade those tolls. Unconsolidated Laws §§ 6816-a, 6816-b, and 6816-c impose liability (and set monetary penalties) for violations of § 6802.
But the Court, in its research, found no case, in any court, addressing the appropriate limitations period for actions to collect on unpaid PA tolls. It seemed clear, though, that the liability (and accompanying penalties) for failing to pay those tolls was one imposed by statute. The limitations period for an action to collect unpaid tolls was therefore three years. The complaint in this case was filed on January 23, 2020. So any unpaid-toll violation committed prior to January 23, 2017, was time-barred. By the Court’s count, that would exclude 101 of the 824 violations appearing on the violations list, leaving 723—or still fewer if one goes by the 731-violations figure in the complaint.
The action was dismissed for failure to seek default judgment within one year of Amigo’s default. And the default-judgment motion would have been denied in any event because material discrepancies exist within the PA’s proof—discrepancies exacerbated by the untimeliness of a significant portion of the PA’s claim—leaving it impossible to tell how much Amigo truly owed.