May a trial court enter a default judgment where the plaintiff (creditor) has failed to submit facts constituting the claim? Answer: Yes.
In order to obtain a judgment by default, CPLR § 3215(f) requires an applicant to file “proof of the facts constituting the claim.” In Manhattan Telecommunications Corporation v. H&A Locksmith, Inc. 21 NY3d 200 (2013), the Court of Appeals was faced with the question of whether non-compliance with the “proof of facts requirement” is a jurisdictional defect that nullifies a default judgment. The Court of Appeals held that the defect was not jurisdictional. Id. at 202.
Manhattan Telecommunications sued several defendants to whom the company claimed it had provided telephone services pursuant to written agreements for which the company had not been paid. Copies of the agreements were not attached to the verified complaint. All defendants defaulted and default judgments were entered.
Ariq Vanunu moved to vacate the default judgment against him “asserting that his default was excusable and that he had meritorious defenses to the action”. Id. Supreme Court denied the motion finding inexcusable delay in moving to vacate the default. The Appellate Division reversed. And then the Court of Appeals reversed the Appellate Division.
The Court of Appeals stated that “the Appellate Division was correct in holding that [the] plaintiff’s complaint, though verified, failed to supply ‘proof of the facts constituting the claim’ against Vanunu, as CPLR § 3215(f) requires.” Id. at 203. However, the Court continued “[while] the default judgment was defective…not every defect in a default judgment requires or permits a Court to set it aside”. Id. The Court of Appeals continued: “the defect in the default judgment before us is not jurisdictional in [that Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction to enter the default]. A failure to submit the proof required by CPLR § 3215(f) should lead a Court to deny an application for a default judgment, but a Court that does not comply with this rule has merely committed an error – it has not usurped a power it does not have. The error can be corrected by the means provided by law – i.e., by an application for the relief from the judgment pursuant to CPLR § 5015. Id. 203-4.