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Justices reverse denial of car dealership’s motion to set aside default judgment

March 27, 2014

Because a car dealership and its registered agent did not receive notice of a hearing on default judgment, the judgment entered against it was void for want of jurisdiction, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled.

Scott Jones sued Front Row Motors LLC and Jerramy Johnson, alleging Johnson rolled back the odometer and fraudulently claimed otherwise. Jones knew Johnson was in custody at the Hamilton County Community Corrections facility when he filed his lawsuit. But Jones did not make an effort to serve Johnson at the facility regarding his motion for default judgment and damages after Johnson did not appear at his deposition.

Default judgment was entered against the defendants in the amount of $34,616.73, but Jones later did not object to setting aside the judgment personally against Johnson due to potentially not providing valid service of notice to him.

Front Row Motors and Johnson appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion in failing to set aside the judgment as to the dealership.

After finding that the appellate courts had jurisdiction to entertain this appeal based on it being deemed final by operation of Trial Rule 60(C), the justices reversed the denial of Front Row Motor’s motion to set aside default judgment.

Indiana Code 23-1-24-4 provides: “A corporation’s registered agent is the corporation’s agent for service of process, notice, or demand required or permitted by law to be served on the corporation.”

“The record shows that at all relevant times during the pendency of this action Jerramy Johnson was the registered agent for Front Row Motors, LLC. Indeed Jones served Johnson in that capacity at the address listed with the Secretary (of) State, namely Johnson’s home address. But Jones knew that Johnson was not present at that address and instead was a resident of a Community Corrections facility. Despite this knowledge Jones made no effort to serve Johnson – the registered agent of Front Row Motors – at the facility,” Justice Robert Rucker wrote in Front Row Motors, LLC and Jerramy Johnson v. Scott Jones, 49S02-1311-PL-758.

“On the record before us Front Row Motors has made a prima facie showing that Jones’ service of process was a mere gesture not calculated to inform it of the default damages hearing. Because Front Row Motors did not receive notice of the hearing, the default judgment entered against it was void for want of jurisdiction. The trial court thus abused its discretion in denying Front Row Motor’s motion to set aside the judgment.”
http://media.ibj.com/Lawyer/websites/opinions/index.php?pdf=2014/march/03271401rdr.pdf

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