Early in my legal career, I worked on a case that went to the Court of Appeals in Washington. The case is captioned, Lloyd Enters., Inc. v. Longview Plumbing & Heating Co., 91 Wn. App. 697, 701, 958 P.2d 1035 (1998). In this case, we represented a contractor plaintiff and filed complaints against Berry, Inc. and Wade Berry, the president of Berry, Inc. Non-lawyer Wade Berry filed answers pro se on behalf of the corporation, meaning without a licensed attorney. Having a non-lawyer in the case was disruptive to the proceeding to say the least.
After sending multiple warnings to Berry Inc. and Wade Berry, we moved to strike all the documents filed by Mr. Berry acting for the benefit of the corporation. This because Rule 11 of the Washington Rules of Civil Procedure requires pleadings to be signed by a licensed attorney.
After granting the motion, the trial court gave the corporation, Berry, Inc., 20 days to file an answer signed by an licensed attorney. When Berry, Inc. failed to comply, the trial court entered an order of default.
On appeal, Division One of the Washington State Court of Appeals held that the trial court properly struck the documents for violation of Rule 11 because the corporation did not promptly cure the omission. The Appeals Court stated: "Because corporations are artificial entities that can act only through their agents, we agree with the general common-law rule, recognized by courts in other jurisdictions, including all federal courts, that corporations appearing in court proceedings must be represented by an attorney."
The Court of Appeals explained the reason for its decision: "A shareholder who owns all or practically all of a corporation's stock is not entitled to sue as an individual because the shareholder cannot employ the corporate form to his advantage in the business world and then choose to ignore its separate entity when he gets to the courthouse."
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