COA: Trial court incorrectly set aside default judgement

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The Court of Appeals of Indiana has reinstated default judgment against a man who had previously won a reversal of that judgment but who failed to address the counterclaims against him.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for further proceedings in Inspire Outdoor Living v. Christopher Norris, et al., 22A-PL-641, on Tuesday.

In December 2021, Christopher Norris filed a complaint against Inspire Outdoor Living alleging negligence, breach of contract and violation of statutory law. The complaint provided the complete address for Norris’ counsel, and Hamilton Superior Court records also contained that information.

In its answer to the complaint, IOL raised counterclaims for a statutory violation and fraudulent inducement. The certification of service was served upon Norris’ counsel at the address of record, but it was missing the suite number. In addition, records showed an electronic notice also wasn’t sent.

IOL filed a motion for default judgment based on Norris’ alleged failure to file a timely response to the counterclaims. The certificate of service for that document also indicated it had been served upon Norris’ counsel at an address that lacked a suite number.

The trial court granted IOL’s motion and entered a default judgment against Norris on the counterclaims. The order was served upon “All Counsel of Record.”

About two weeks later, Norris filed a verified motion to set aside default judgment and request for hearing.

At the March 3 hearing, Norris’ counsel argued he had never received IOL’s answer and counterclaims because they were sent to the wrong address. The counsel also argued Norris had a meritorious defense in that Norris’ own cause of action stated valid claims of “defective workmanship, violation of the Indiana Home Improvement Act, and negligent workmanship.”

Norris’ counsel did not address any defense to IOL’s counterclaims.

The trial court took the matter under advisement and ultimately granted Norris’ motion to set aside the default judgment.

But COA judges found the default judgment shouldn’t have been set aside.

“As IOL points out, Norris failed to articulate any defense — meritorious or otherwise — to IOL’s counterclaims,” Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote for the court. “Norris’s motion to set aside the default judgment stated only ‘Plaintiffs have meritorious defenses to Defendant’s claims along with valid claims for damages against Defendants.’

“That allegation, without citation to any alleged factual support, is insufficient to make a prima facie showing of a meritorious defense,” Bailey wrote. “And, at the hearing on Norris’s motion to set aside the default judgment, Norris again failed to state any defense at all to IOL’s counterclaims, much less support a defense with alleged facts that, if true, would lead to a different result if the counterclaims were tried on the merits.”

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