ILNews

Court affirms dismissal of default judgment

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court finding that a mother had a valid excuse for not showing up to a child-support modification hearing because neither she nor her attorney received proper notice of the hearing.

In Jason D. Bunch v. Katherine R. Himm, 64A04-0705-CV-262, Bunch and Himm divorced, leaving Bunch with physical custody of their two children. Himm moved from northern Indiana to South Carolina and joined the United States Marine Corps Reserves. Their divorce decree was finalized shortly after she joined, and the court ruled she would pay $220 a week to Bunch in support while on active duty because her income would be larger and $138 while on reserve duty.

While Himm was away on active duty, and within one year of the decree, Bunch filed an unverified petition to modify the divorce decree to increase child support because Himm's income had increased. The petition was mailed to Himm at a South Carolina address she was having her mail sent to and a copy was also mailed to her attorney. The person getting Himm's mail told her she received a notice about a court date and to contact her attorney. Himm called her attorney and told him that she would not be able to appear and that he would have to go for her. The attorney replied that he did not receive a notice and there was no court date.

When the hearing date arrived, neither Himm nor her attorney showed. As a result, Bunch received a default judgment increasing the amount of child support Himm would pay. Himm did not learn of the default judgment until Bunch told her. At that point, she filed a petitioner's Trial Rule 60 motion to set aside default orders and a motion to withdraw and stay.

The trial court granted her petition because it found Himm's not showing up to the hearing as "excusable neglect" under T.R. 60. Bunch appealed the trial court's ruling.

Judge Patricia Riley wrote the default judgment against Himm should have been set aside because Bunch filed an unverified petition for modification. Also, the Indiana Supreme Court has stated that absent a substantial and continuing change in circumstances that would make a prior order unreasonable, a difference in income alone cannot support a modification of child support in the first year after a divorce decree.

The appellate court affirmed the trial court finding and remanded for further proceedings.
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  1. Hmmmmm ..... How does the good doctor's spells work on tyrants and unelected bureacrats with nearly unchecked power employing in closed hearings employing ad hoc procedures? Just askin'. ... Happy independence day to any and all out there who are "free" ... Unlike me.

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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