Can My Corporation Represent Itself In A Lawsuit In New York State Court?

Can My Corporation Represent Itself In A Lawsuit In New York State Court?

In general, no.  In the courts of the State of New York, adult individuals may prosecute or defend a civil action in person, but a corporation or association may do so only through an attorney.  N.Y. C.P.L.R. 321(a).  So, too, a limited liability company must appear in a lawsuit by an attorney.

However, New York's First Department and the Second Department each have held that an individual assignee of a corporation may sue without a lawyer, "despite the fact that the assignment may have been made to circumvent the statutory prohibition against a corporation appearing pro se."  Traktman v. City of New York, 182 A.D.2d 814, 815 (2d Dep't 1992); see also Kinlay v. Henley, 57 A.D.3d 219, 220, 868 N.Y.S.2d 62 (1st Dep't 2008); Kamp v. In Sportswear Inc., 39 A.D.2d 869, 332 N.Y.S.2d 983 (1st Dep't 1972), rev'g on dissenting opinion below, 70 Misc.2d 898, 335 N.Y.S.2d 306 (App. Term 1972).

The above-stated rule that a corporation or an association may not appear pro se in a civil action does not apply to partnerships, or to law firms incorporated as professional corporations.  Gilberg v. Lennon, 212 A.D.2d 662, 664, 622 N.Y.S.2d 962 (2d Dep't 1995).

Further, in the Small Claims parts of the lower courts of New York State, exceptions exist to the above-stated rule that a corporation or association may only prosecute or defend a civil action through an attorney. 

A corporation may appear without a lawyer in the "commercial" Small Claims part of the New York City Civil Court and of the district and city courts, and in the usual Small Claims part of those courts and of the town and village courts.  N.Y. City Civ. Ct. Act § 1809-A(d); N.Y. Uniform Dist. Ct. Act § 1809-A(d); N.Y. Uniform City Ct. Act § 1809-A(d); see N.Y. City Civ. Ct. Act § 1809(2); N.Y. Uniform Dist. Ct. Act § 1809(2); N.Y. Uniform City Ct. Act § 1809(2).  

In the usual (non-"commercial") Small Claims part of the New York City Civil Court, of the district and city courts, and of the town and village courts, a corporation lacking an attorney is allowed only to defend (not prosecute) a small claim.  N.Y. City Civ. Ct. Act § 1809(2); N.Y. Uniform Dist. Ct. Act § 1809(2); N.Y. Uniform City Ct. Act § 1809(2). 

If your company wants to bring, or needs a lawyer to defend it in, business litigation and you are located in the New York City area, call Attorney David S. Rich at (212) 209-3972.

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