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Brastex Corp. v. Allen International Inc.

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT


March 2, 1983

BRASTEX CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
ALLEN INTERNATIONAL, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.

Appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, John E. Sprizzo, Judge, denying plaintiff's motion to confirm an order ot attachment previously issued by that court and to continue levies pursuant thereto. Affirmed.

Author: Pierce

Before: TIMBERS, KEARSE and PIERCE, Circuit Judges.

PIERCE, Circuit Judge:

This is an appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, John E. Sprizzo, Judge, entered on September 20, 1982, denying appellant's motion to confirm an ex parte order of attachment issued by that court on April 2, 1982, and to extend the validity of the levies made pursuant thereto.*fn1

The plaintiff-appellant, Brastex Corporation (Brastex), a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in New York, is engaged in the wholesale towel business. The defendant-appellee, Allen International, Inc. (Allen), an Arizona corporation currently licensed to do business in New York,*fn2 is a customer of Brastex. The present litigation began when Brastex filed a complaint on March 26, 1982, against Allen, for, inter alia, damages incurred by Allen's failure to render payment for towels sold and delivered to Allen by Brastex.*fn3 To secure payment of an anticipated judgment, Brastex applied for an ex parte pre-judgment order of attachment in the amount of $86,093.07. The order was issued by Judge John E. Sprizzo of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on April 2, pursuant to Rule 64 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure*fn4 and section 6201 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules of the State of New York (CPLR), which reads, in pertinent part:

§ 6201. Grounds for attachment.

An order of attachment may be granted in any action, except a matrimonial action, where the plaintiff has demanded and would be entitled, in whole or in part, or in the alternative, to a money judgment against one or more defendants, when:

1. the defendant is a nondomiciliary residing without the state, or is a foreign corporation not qualified to do business in the state; or

3. the defendant, with intent to defraud his creditors or frustrate the enforcement of a judgment that might be rendered in plaintiff's favor, has assigned, disposed of, encumbered or secreted property, or removed it from the state or is about to do any of these acts. . . .

N.Y. CPLR § 6201(1), (3) (McKinney 1980) (emphasis added). The district court found the plaintiff entitled to the order of attachment under section 6201(1) because the defendant, Allen International, Inc., was a foreign corporation not qualified to do business in the State of New York.

Pursuant to the order of attachment, Brastex filed an undertaking and, on April 20, timely moved to confirm the order filed on April 2. While the motion to confirm was pending, the United States Marshal for the Southern District of New York levied on two Allen customers -- R. H. Macy's & Co. and Bloomingdale Brothers Corp. -- on April 26 and 29, respectively. On September 15, oral argument was held in the district court on Brastex's motion to confirm. At that time, attorneys for Allen submitted confirmation from the Secretary of State of New York that Allen had qualified, on September 1, 1982, to do business in New York State under the name of Allen Textiles, Inc. In view of these changed circumstances, the court denied Brastex's motion to confirm the attachment and extend the levies, noting:

We all know the Supreme Court has indicated in recent years this is a drastic remedy and one not lightly to be given. The legislature of the State of New York has narrowed the grounds since 1977 with respect to when an attachment against a foreign corporation may be granted and has specifically by its action said you can't get it in every case against a foreign corporation. The only time you can is if they are not licensed to do business then, but now they are. In the absence of some controlling authority from the State Court I must make my own decision, and I think it would be inconsistent with the legislative intent under Subdivision 1 for this Court to continue an attachment and to extend the levies when the statutory basis of Subdivision 1 no longer exists.

Tr. 23-24.*fn5 The district judge also rejected Brastex's argument that subsection 3 was applicable, stating that section 6201(3) "requires a separate and independent finding of fraud."*fn6 Tr. 15.

On appeal, the parties assert two principal claims. First, as a threshold issue, appellee Allen contends that this Court lacks jurisdiction to review an order granting or denying a provisional remedy which is not a final order. Second, appellant Brastex asserts that section 6201(1) should not apply to dissolve the pre-judgment attachment in this case. It contends that it could not have been the intent of the New York State legislature to allow a corporation to avoid a previously valid attachment order simply by taking the administrative steps to qualify to do business within New York State. We reject both claims.

Jurisdiction

Appellee asserts that the district court's order denying a motion to confirm an attachment is neither an appealable order within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (final orders) or § 1292(a)(1) (interlocutory orders), nor within the "collateral order" exception set forth in Cohen v. Beneficial Loan Corp., 337 U.S. 541, 546, 93 L. Ed. 1528, 69 S. Ct. 1221 (1949). Because we find that the order falls within the Cohen exception, we decline to dismiss the appeal on this basis.

In Cohen, the United States Supreme Court recognized that in some circumstances, an otherwise nonappealable order might, in the court's discretion, be appealed if the order comes within

that small class which finally determine claims of right separablefrom, and collateral to, rights asserted in the action, too important to be denied review and too independent of the cause itself to require that appellate consideration be deferred until the whole case is adjudicated.

Id. at 546. In Swift & Co. Packers v. Compania Colombiana Del Caribe, S.A., 339 U.S. 684, 688-89, 94 L. Ed. 1206, 70 S. Ct. 861 (1950), the Court held an order vacating an attachment appealable as a collateral order. See generally 9 J. Moore & B. Ward, Moore's Federal Practice P110.13[5], at 170-73 (2d ed. 1982); 15 C. Wright, A. Miller & E. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3911, at 491-94 (1976). In Swift, the attachment was issued "in order to secure respondents' appearance and to insure the fruits of a decree in libellants' favor." 339 U.S. at 691.

Appellee appears to contend that because Brastex, unlike Swift, does not rely on the attachment as the basis for jurisdiction, the district court's order in the instant case does not rise to the level of urgency or importance envisioned by the Supreme Court in Cohen. We disagree. First, we note that in Swift, the attachment served two purposes: jurisdiction and security for a potential judgment.*fn7 Second, jurisdictional purpose is not the only circumstance in which this Court has reviewed an order vacating an attachment.In Republic of Italy v. DeAngelis, 206 F.2d 121 (2d Cir. 1953), for example, the plaintiff had obtained a pre-judgment attachment on the grounds that the defendant had assigned, disposed of, or secreted its property with intent to defraud its creditors and that it had fraudulently incurred obligations and made fraudulent transfers. Id. at 123. The district court vacated the attachment and the plaintiff appealed. Id. This Court found the order appealable under Swift & Co. Packers v. Compania Colombiana Del Caribe, S.A., 339 U.S. 684, 94 L. Ed. 1206, 70 S. Ct. 861 (1950). Id. Thus, there appears to be no prohibition on review of an order vacating an attachment in cases where jurisdiction over defendant is not in issue.*fn8 In the instant case, appellant presents a serious question of first impression concerning CPLR § 6201(1). Since we find this issue "too important to be denied review and too independent of the cause itself to require that appellate consideration be deferred until the whole case is adjudicated," Cohen v. Beneficial Loan Corp., 337 U.S. at 546, we reach the merits of appellant's claim.

Post-Attachment Qualification under CPLR section 6201(1)

We are presented with the question of whether a post-attachment, pre-confirmation, qualification to do business in New York under CPLR § 6201(1) can serve to void a previously valid attachment issued under that provision. Because this question is one of substantive law, as a federal court sitting in diversity, we must apply the law of New York State. Erie R. R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78, 82 L. Ed. 1188, 58 S. Ct. 817 (1938). Where the law of the state is unclear or non-existent as to the matter in controversy, however, the court must determine what result the state court would reach if the case has been brought in state court. See Bernhardt v. Polygraphic Co., 350 U.S. 198, 209, 100 L. Ed. 199, 76 S. Ct. 273 (1956) (Frankfurther, J., concurring); Gordon v. Motel City "B" Associates, 403 F.2d 90, 92 (2d Cir. 1968); Cooper v. American Airlines, 149 F.2d 355, 359 (2d Cir. 1945). Because we have found no New York case which has resolved the question of whether a post-attachment, pre-confirmation, qualification to do business removes the statutory ground for an existing attachment under CPLR § 6201(1), our task is to rule as we might expect a New York State court to rule on the issue.

New York CPLR § 6201(1) allows attachment against a defendant who "is a foreign corporation not qualified to do business in the state." Appellant urges that this provision should be read to exempt property of foreign corporations from attachment only when such corporations have qualified to do business in New York in the normal course of business. Br. for Appellant at 10. In the alternative, it urges that CPLR § 6201(3), the fraudulent conduct provision, be invoked to preserve the attachment in this case because Allen's tardy qualification was intended to frustrate the enforcement of Brastex judgment. We reject appellant's claims.

As to appellant's suggested interpretation of CPLR § 6201(1), we find nothing either in the language of the statute or in the legislative history to suggest an intent to require qualification "in the normal course of business." First, the language of the statute itself, "qualified to do business in the state," denotes for formal act of filing to do so. We recognize that a strict interpretation of this provision, in some cases, might allow a defendant to defeat an otherwise valid attachment by filing papers. Yet the legislature chose the term "qualified," without setting forth the limitation suggested by appellant, or any other limitation. In this sense, the statute is unambiguous. Applying principles of statutory construction, our inquiry might end here. See Zaldin v. Concord Hotel, 48 N.Y.2d 107, 421 N.Y.S.2d 858, 861-62, 397 N.E.2d 370, 373 (1979) ("[W]hen . . . a statute is free from ambiguity and its sweep unburdened by qualification or exception, we must do no more and no less than apply the language as it is written.") (citations omitted); see also People ex rel. New York Cent. & Hudson Riv. R.R. Co. v. Woodbury, 208 N.Y. 421, 424-25, 102 N.E. 565, 566 (1913); McKinney's Statutes § 76 (1971); 2A C. Sands, Sutherland's Statutes and Statutory Construction §§ 46.01, 46.04 (4th ed. 1973).*fn9

Appellant asserts, however, that such a literal reading of CPLR § 6201(1) would render it meaningless. He argues that a defendant against whom an order of attachment has been issued could simply qualify to do business in order to defeat the attachment, and then withdraw its qualification and remove its assets from the State once that goal had been accomplished. He points out that under New York law, a statute should not be read so as to render it ineffective: [I]f a literal interpretation of an enactment tends to abrogate it, the courts will place a more liberal meaning on the language used. If possible, such a construction will be placed on an act as will not suffer it to be eluded. . . ." McKinney's Statutes § 144 (1971); see also Wilson v. Board of Education, 39 A.D.2d 965, 967, 333 N.Y.S.2d 868, 871-72 (2d Dep't 1972), aff'd, 32 N.Y.2d 636, 342 N.Y.S.2d 659, 295 N.E.2d 387 (1973). A rational construction, appellant continues, would read section 6201(1) in conjunction with section 6201(3). Subsection 3 allows attachment where "the defendant, with intent to defraud his creditors or frustrate the enforcement of a judgment that might be rendered in plaintiff's favor, has assigned, disposed of, encumbered or secreted property, or removed it from the state or is about to do any of these acts; . . ." While we may agree that "the language about frustrating the enforcement of judgment . . . was added by the Legislature, apparently to make it easier for the plaintiff to obtain an order of attachment," McLaughlin, Practice Commentaries C6201:4, N.Y. CPLR § 6201 (McKinney 1980), we could consider it an unwarranted leap of logic to find subsection 3 applicable to the facts of this case. In his ruling below, the district judge pointed out that subsection 3 "requires a separate and independent finding of fraud," Tr. 15, and found that "there really are no facts which meet the rather stringent requirements of Section 6201 Subdivision 3." Tr. 26. We find no reason to disagree. Indeed, under section 6201(3) "it is incumbent upon [the plaintiff] to demonstrate that the defendant is acting with intent to defraud. Fraud is not lightly inferred, and the moving papers must contain evidentiary facts -- as opposed to conclusions -- proving the fraud." McLaughlin, Practice Commentaries C6201:4, N.Y. CPLR § 6201 (McKinney 1980). Appellant offered as grounds for application of subsection 3 that, contrary to an agreement between the parties, Allen paid certain out-of state customers directly rather than paying Brastex on certain accounts,*fn10 and that Allen is in shaky financial condition, thereby threatening the project of collecting a judgment. Tr. 16-22. The district judge rejected these claims, stating:

I find that the provisions of Subdivision 3 are designed to deal with the removal or fraudulent attempted removal of assets within the State of New York, and the statute does not apply in a situation where the assets were never within the State of New York.

I further find that the argument that I should grant an attachment on the theory that the Allen Corporation may be in shaky financial condition and at the time of judgment may not be able to respond to a judgment is not a statutory basis for an attachment set forth in 6201, and that if the Legislature of the State of New York had intended that we could issue attachments in such cases against foreign and/or domestic corporations on the ground of their potential bankruptcy -- assuming that were true, which is denied -- then I believe they would have set it forth in the statute, and I can't rewrite the statute for them.

Tr. 24-25. We consider this reading of the statute consistent with applicable principles of statutory interpretation and find that the district judge's factual findings relating to subsection 3 were not clearly erroneous.

Nor do we agree with appellant that our strict reading of section 6201(1) "would completely undercut one of the essential purposes of attachment [i.e., security for collection of judgment] and be contrary to a proper reading of the statute." Br. for Appellant at 10. CPLR §§ 6211(b) and 6233(b) require that on a motion to confirm an order of attachment, the plaintiff has the burden of establishing a ground for attachment. The district judge acknowledged this requirement at the hearing on the motion to confirm:

[addressing appellant]: I don't agree with your argument that I must ignore the changed circumstances where the changed circumstances obviate the basis for the attachment under Subdivision 1 of Section 6201. They have filed an authenticated license to do business in the State of New York. Had the motions been brought at a time when they were already licensed it is clear you would have had no basis for an attachment. I don't think I can build myself to the facts as they now exist on a motion to confirm the attachment and to extend the levies, and I don't think the legislature of the State of New York contemplated that when the grounds for attachment no longer exist, even if they existed at the time of the attachment, the Court is justified in extending the rather extraordinary remedy of attachment.

Tr.23. It is significant that the New York State legislature, in 1977, acted to narrow the grounds for this "extraordinary remedy" as to foreign corporations by allowing business in New York. Prior to 1977, attachment could be had against any foreign corporation, regardless of whether it was licensed to do business in New York. This history would tend to support a narrow reading of the provision, rather than the broader reading suggested by appellant. In addition, since attachment is an extraordinary remedy created by statute in derogation of common law, the provision should be strictly construed in favor of those against whom it is employed. Siegel v. Northern Boulevard & 80th St. Corp., 31 A.D.2d 182, 183, 295 N.Y.S.2d 804, 806 (1st Dep't 1968). We agree with the district judge that the statutory purpose at issue in this case -- security for a judgment -- is not "completely undercut" by our strict reading of the statute.*fn11 As the district judge noted, Tr. 25, Allen has three major customers in New York.*fn12 It is quite unlikely that the company will abandon these customers; rather, it is likely that they will continue to do business in New York and thereby generate assets here. Furthermore, were we to read the statute as appellant suggests, in each case a court would have to make a complex factual determination as to whether a foreign corporation has qualified "in the normal course of business" or for the purpose of avoiding a valid attachment. It is our view that this type of judicial exercise is what the legislature sought to avoid by narrowing the statute in 1977 to apply to non-qualifying businesses. Consequently, we decline to accept appellant's proposed construction.

Accordingly, we affirm the district court's order vacating the attachment and discontinuing the levies pursuant thereto.


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