New York City Debt Collection Defense Attorney

Why Timeliness Matters: The 120-Day Rule for Serving Court Papers

To ensure fairness in legal proceedings, there is a strict timeline for serving legal documents. In debt lawsuits, the summons and complaint must be served within 120 days from when the lawsuit begins.

What Happens If Service Is Delayed?

The court has two choices if service doesn't happen on time:

  1. Option to Dismiss: The court can dismiss the case without prejudice, meaning the plaintiff may be able to sue again.
  2. Time Extension: The court can give the plaintiff more time to serve the documents if they show good reasons or if it's in the interest of justice.

When Can the Court Extend the Time?

Let's look at what the court considers a good reason and what falls under the interest of justice:

  • Good Cause: The plaintiff must have tried diligently to serve the papers. If something beyond their control prevented service, that could be a good cause. However, if the plaintiff didn't try at all, the court won't consider it a good reason.
  • Interest of Justice: This is a broader criterion where the court looks at several aspects—like how strong the plaintiff's case is, whether the time limit for suing has passed, how long the service was delayed, the plaintiff's efforts to serve, potential harm to the defendant, and how quickly the plaintiff asked for more time.

Have You Been Sued Without Proper Notice?

If you're facing a debt lawsuit and haven't been properly served, you might have a defense. Contact our team for a free consultation to explore your options and ensure your rights are protected.

The Critical Timeline for Service of Legal Documents

To be held valid, service of the summons and complaint must be made within 120 days of commencement of the action.[1] If service is not made within that time the court may entertain two options: 1) Dismiss the action without prejudice (plaintiff can possibly re-sue) upon request; or 2) Extend the plaintiff's time to serve upon its showing of good cause or in the interest of justice.

What represents "good cause" or "the interest of justice" is generally governed by the below two standards.[2]

  1. Good Cause: A plaintiff must demonstrate reasonable diligence in attempting service.[3] If the failure to timely serve is beyond the plaintiff's control, that may also constitute good cause. [4] Good cause will not exist where a plaintiff fails to make any effort at service.[5]
  2. In the Interest of Justice: This standard is broader and permits a court to consider many factors, including merit of the action, the expiration of the statute of limitations, the length of delay in service, plaintiff's diligence, prejudice to the defendant, and the promptness of plaintiff's request for an extension of time and.[6]

If you are being sued over a debt and you were not properly served with a summon and complaint, contact us for a free consultation.

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[1] CPLR§ 306-b

[2] Mead v. Singleman, 24 AD3d 1142, 1143 [2005]; see Leader v. Maroney, Ponzini & Spencer, 97 N.Y.2d 95, 104 [2001].

[3] Id.

[4] see U.S. 1 Brookville Real Estate Corp. v. Spallone, 13 Misc.3d 1236(A), 2006 WL 3302836, quoting Eastern Refractories Co., Inc. v. Forty Eight Insulations, Inc., 187 F.R.D. 503, 505; see also Greco v. Renegades, Inc., 307 A.D.2d 711, 712, 761 N.Y.S.2d 426 [difficulties of service associated with locating defendant enlisted in military]; Kulpa v. Jackson, 235, 773 N.Y.S.2d 235 [difficulties associated with service abroad through the Hague Convention].

[5] see Valentin v. Zaltsman, 835 N.Y.S.2d 298; Lipschitz v. McCann, 786 N.Y.S.2d 567

[6] Mead v. Singleman, 24 AD3d at 1144; see Leader v. Maroney, Ponzini & Spencer, 97 N.Y.2d at 105–106.