A plaintiff in a civil lawsuit who says a man sexually assaulted her in her apartment but had failed for months to track him down may serve her complaint on lawyers for the defendant’s guardian, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan of the Southern District of New York took note of plaintiff Carmelle Danneman’s repeated unsuccessful efforts to locate her alleged assailant, and found it increasingly appears that he is trying to avoid process of service. The court concluded Danneman may serve her complaint upon the attorney for the defendant’s adoptive father.
Danneman, a 23-year-old actress, alleged in her complaint that she met a man at a dinner party in New York City who identified himself as Yosef Gerszberg. The man also goes by the name Surab Bilich, according to court papers.
Danneman alleges the defendant “invited himself” to her apartment, cornered her in her bedroom and sexually assaulted her.
Attorney Daniel N. Epstein of New Jersey-based Epstein Ostrove identified the defendant in the case as Bilich, and said he took on Bilich as a client Thursday after Danneman’s attorney, Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma, filed an amended complaint.
Epstein said the suit defames his client and said it was filed as an attempt to extort money from the defendant’s guardian, a wealthy textile entrepreneur who co-founded the Ecko Unlimited clothing brand.
When Danneman filed her original complaint in October, she named Gerszberg as the defendant. The suit was served on an address in Englewood, New Jersey, and was served upon a man identified as the defendant’s “co-tenant,” according to court papers.
Epstein contacted Margulis-Ohnuma and said he represents Seth Gerszberg, who with clothing designer Marc Ecko and Ecko’s twin sister co-founded Ecko Unlimited in 1993.
According to court papers, Gerszberg appeared at a Feb. 15 hearing and said that Bilich lives somewhere in Weehawken, New Jersey, but said he didn’t have an exact address.
Under a court order, Gerszberg gave Margulis-Ohnuma a phone number and email address for Bilich, as well as his photograph; Danneman then identified the man in the photograph as the defendant referred to in her complaint.
Margulis-Ohnuma’s attempts to reach Bilich by phone and email were unsuccessful and, a few days later, he found that a YouTube account and a Google Plus account that had been linked to the email address no longer existed.
Searches of online databases for an address for Bilich were also fruitless, court papers state.
Sullivan said that, when a defendant’s whereabouts cannot be determined, New York law affords judges broad discretion to authorize an “indirect and probably even futile means of notification.”
And, the judge said, since Gerszberg and his attorneys had been in contact with Bilich, Danneman’s proposed alternative method of service is reasonably calculated to give the defendant notice of the suit.