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Goins-Tisdale v. GEICO

City Court of Rochester, Monroe County

June 9, 2017

Latousya Goins-Tisdale, Plaintiff,
v.
GEICO, Defendant.

          Teodoro Siguenza, Esq., for plaintiff.

          Law Office of Daniel R. Archilla (Martha E. Donovan, Esq., of counsel), for defendant.

          ELLEN M. YACKNIN, J.

         INTRODUCTION

         On July 5, 2016, plaintiff Latousya Goins-Tisdale filed a small claims action against defendant GEICO [1] in Rochester City Court. Plaintiff claimed that defendant unjustifiably failed to pay her insurance claim related to her damaged automobile.

         An arbitration hearing was scheduled for August 24, 2016. Plaintiff appeared at hearing, but defendant did not appear. After hearing plaintiff's testimony and reviewing the evidence, the arbitrator found that plaintiff had proved her claim, and awarded plaintiff $5, 000.00, plus $20.00 in costs. On August 24, 2016, Rochester City Court entered a default judgment against defendant for this amount.

         On March 9, 2017, defendant GEICO filed a motion to vacate the default judgment. Defendant argues primarily that the court was without jurisdiction to issue a judgment against defendant because service of plaintiff's complaint was improper. Secondarily, defendant contends that its failure to respond to plaintiff's complaint was excusable and that it has a meritorious defense to plaintiff's claims.

         The Court conducted a traverse hearing with respect to defendant's contentions on May 2, 2017. Craig Brown testified for defendant and plaintiff Latousya Goins-Tisdale testified for herself. After considering the credible testimony and evidence, the Court makes the following factual findings and conclusions of law.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Under NY Uniform City Court Act § 1803(a), service of a small claims complaint against a party can be made at the party's "office." In her July 5, 2016 small claims complaint, plaintiff identified defendant GEICO's office address as 3740 West Henrietta Road in Rochester, New York.

         As required by NY Uniform City Courts Act § 1803(a), the Clerk's Office mailed plaintiff's complaint to defendant GEICO at that address by certified mail, return receipt requested, and by first class mail. The first class letter sent to GEICO at that address was not returned to the Clerk's Office as undeliverable. [2] Further, the U.S. Postal Service's tracking records show that the Postal Service delivered the Clerk's Office's certified mail to an individual who accepted it at that address on July 8, 2016.

         According to defendant's witness, Craig Brown, 3740 West Henrietta Road is not defendant GEICO's office address. Instead, according to Mr. Brown, that address is the registered corporate address of CA Brown, Inc., a business that sells insurance policies for defendant GEICO. Mr. Brown is President of CA Brown, Inc.

         That Ms. Goins-Tisdale understood the office at 3740 West Henrietta Road to be defendant GEICO's office, however, is entirely reasonable. In fact, it is reasonable that anyone who drives by, enters, or conducts business at 3740 West Henrietta Road would understand 3740 West Henrietta Road to be defendant GEICO's office.

         3740 West Henrietta Road is a stand alone building. There are no signs anywhere on the building that identify it as CA Brown, Inc. To the contrary, over the building's front entrance is a sign that is several feet tall and several feet wide. The sign identifies the building as "GEICO - Local Office." Several yards away from the entranceway is a large pole that is several stories high. At the top of the pole is a massive sign with a blue background ...


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