Teodoro Siguenza, Esq., for plaintiff.
Office of Daniel R. Archilla (Martha E. Donovan, Esq., of
counsel), for defendant.
M. YACKNIN, J.
5, 2016, plaintiff Latousya Goins-Tisdale filed a small
claims action against defendant GEICO  in Rochester City
Court. Plaintiff claimed that defendant unjustifiably failed
to pay her insurance claim related to her damaged automobile.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.  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,
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.
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.
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 ...