SETTING ASIDE A DEFAULT JUDGMENT
August 2, 2012 § Leave a comment
MRCP 55(c) allows the trial judge to set aside a default judgment “for good cause shown.” MRCP 60(b) authorizes the judge to set aside a default for “mistake, newly discovered evidence, fraud, void judgment, satisfaction, or other reasons the court finds to justify setting it aside.”
In the case of American States Insurance Co. v. Rogilio, 10 So.3d 463, 467 (Miss. 2009), the court established a three-prong test for trial courts to apply in determining whether to set aside a judgment:
(1) the nature and legitimacy of a defendant’s reasons for default (i.e., whether a defendant has good cause for default), (2) whether the defendant has a colorable defense to the merits of the claim, and (3) the nature and extent of prejudice that a plaintiff would suffer if default is set aside.
In the COA case of Olive v. Malouf, decided July 24, 2012, the trial judge had denied Olive’s motion to set aside the default judgment entered against him. Judge Roberts, writing for the COA, addressed each of the American Standard elements:
- The nature and legitimacy of a defendant’s reasons for default. In support of his motion, Olive argued only that he did not know where to file or send a copy of a responsive pleading, despite the fact that the name and address of opposing counsel was clearly stated on the complaint. Olive offered nothing else to explain his failure to file an answer. “¶11. The Mississippi Supreme Court has declined to set aside a default judgment where ‘[n]othing in the record suggests that [a defendant] was confused about the meaning and effect of the papers served upon him,’ and there was no indication that the defendant was ‘confused about the fact that he had been sued and should respond.’ Guar. Nat’l Ins. Co. v. Pittman, 501 So. 2d 377, 388 (Miss. 1987).”
- Whether the defendant has a colorable defense to the merits of the claim. Olive presented nothing by way of affidavit or other sworn form of evidence that he had any meritorious defense. A party does not meet the burden of MRCP 60(b) by relying on unsubstantiated allegations that a meritorious defense exists. American Cable Corp. v. Trilogy Communications, Inc., 754 So.2d 545, 554 (Miss.App. 2000). “Despite the general preference that litigants have a trial on the merits, a defendant must still ‘set forth[,] in affidavit form[,] the nature and substance of [his] defense.” Olive at ¶14, citing H & W Transfer & Cartage Service v. Griffin, 511 So.2d 895, 899 (Miss. 1987). This is the prong that the appellate courts have held to carry the most weight.
- The nature and extent of prejudice that a plaintiff would suffer if default is set aside. Olive presented nothing in support of this element, and the court found that Malouf would suffer prejuddice, especially considering that he had prevailed on the other two prongs.
To prevail on a Rule 55(c) or 60(b) argument, then, you will have to do some groundwork to support your claim. Mere allegations will not carry the day. You will have to file affidavits and address each prong of the American Standard test. If you fail to do so, you won’t prevail on appeal.