A default judgment is a court order that occurs when the defendant fails to summon or respond to the case within the provided time or violates any court rules. A default judgment can have important implications for the defendant. Such implications include the impact on credit rating, enabling the plaintiff to enforce the judgment by various means, or terminating their rights to a property. This blog will review the default judgment and methods to obtain, prevent, or challenge it.
Benefits of Default Judgment
Granting a default judgment has several benefits, some of which are:
- Saving Money and Time: A default judgment can accelerate the case outcome, avoiding the expenses and setbacks of a trial. The plaintiff does not have to prove their case or present evidence or witnesses, as the court accepts their allegations and claims as true.
- Obtaining Full Relief: A default judgment can award the plaintiff the full damages or other relief requested in their complaint. This recompensation is not subject to any reduction or compromise. The defendant cannot challenge or appeal the judgment unless they show a valid reason to vacate it.
- Enforcing the Judgment: The plaintiff can enforce a default judgment through various legal means. These means include garnishing the defendant’s wages, levying their bank accounts, placing a lien on their property, or seizing their assets. The defendant cannot dispute or stop these enforcement actions unless they show a valid reason to vacate the judgment.
Steps to Obtain a Default Judgment
The steps and procedures involved in obtaining a default judgment from the court are:
- Check the Grounds for Default Motion. A default judgment may be requested if the defendant fails to respond to the lawsuit. Failure to respond within the prescribed time or violating other court rules are common grounds for invoking a motion.
- Verify the Defendant’s Military Status. A default judgment cannot be entered against a defendant on active military duty. The plaintiff must search the Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act (SCRA) website to ascertain that the defendant is not in the military.
- Look for a Motion Form or Template. Some courts may provide a form or a sample for requesting a default judgment. The plaintiff should inquire with the court clerk or check the court’s website to see if one is available. If not, the plaintiff can create their own document using the same format as their complaint.
- Complete the Motion and Supporting Documents. The plaintiff must provide information such as the court name, the case number, and the reasons for default. They must also include the requested relief, the parties, and affidavits to support their claims. Additionally, the plaintiff must include a statement verifying their military status.
- File and Serve the Motion. The plaintiff must file their motion with the court clerk and pay any fees required. The plaintiff must also serve a copy of their motion and supporting documents on the defendant. Copies of the motion can be sent by mail or by another approved method. The plaintiff should keep proof of service for their records.
- Wait for the Court’s Decision. The court will review the motion and decide whether to grant or deny it. If the motion is approved, the default judgment will be obtained. However, if the court rejects it, the plaintiff must file a lawsuit.
How to Cancel a Default Judgment
A motion to vacate is a legal request made in the court to set aside or cancel a previous judgment, sentence or order issued. It can be filed by either side of the case or a third party involved or impacted by the order or judgment. The request can be based on various grounds, such as fraud, mistakes, lack of notice, jurisdiction, or new evidence. The process typically involved an attorney filing a written legal motion for consideration by a judge.
The person or party seeking to vacate a judgment or order must do so promptly after its issuance and follow the court’s rules and procedures for such a request. The defendant can file a motion for relief from the judgment if it is proved that there is new evidence or error. These potential reasons can reopen the case and allow the defendant to proceed with the trial if necessary.
A default judgment is a serious matter which should not be taken lightly. And if the defendant fails to summon or respond to the lawsuit, they should consult an attorney to explore their options and protect their rights.
Limitations of a Default Judgment
A default judgment does not guarantee the plaintiff's success in the lawsuit. It has certain limitations to it, which are:
- Lack of Evidence: To grant a default judgment, the court does not ask the plaintiff to prove their case or show any related evidence or witnesses. It also does not provide any testimony or evidence to support the claims. This becomes a limitation for the plaintiff to enforce the judgment or defend it against any appeals or challenges of the defendant.
- Possibility of Vacating: The court can vacate a default judgment if the defendant can show a valid reason for not appearing in the case. These reasons may include causes like lack of proper service, excusable neglect, fraud, or new evidence. The defendant must file a motion to vacate the judgment to show they have a meritorious defense to the plaintiff’s claims. If the court approves, the case will be reopened and may proceed to trials.
- Uncertainty of Outcome: The defendant can challenge a default judgment if they can demonstrate that the court committed a legal mistake. The defendant must file for a notice of appeal within the given time and raise their arguments to challenge the validity of the judgment. If the appellate court modifies the judgment in any manner, the plaintiff may lose their relief. They may lose their relief partially or completely.
Key Terms for Default Judgment
- Default Judgment: A court order grants relief to the defendant who fails to respond or appear in the case.
- Affidavit: A legal written statement made under oath in a court of law to certify the validity of certain facts.
- Service of Process: The legal procedure of delivering the summons and complaint to the defendant.
- Vacating Default Judgment: The defendant takes legal action to set aside or cancel a default judgment that was entered against them.
- Appealing Default Judgment: The defendant takes legal action to challenge or overturn a default judgment that was entered against them.
Final Thoughts on Default Judgment
A default judgment is a powerful tool for the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit. It allows them to obtain the relief they seek without having to prove their case or face the defendant’s defense. However, it does not guarantee the plaintiff's success. Lack of success can be attributed to the defendants’ rights to set aside and challenge the judgment based on their case. Therefore, both parties must know their rights and obligations in the default judgment situation. If necessary, consult an attorney for better advice.
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