Friday, November 04, 2011

civil procedure - default judgments - opening

Kelly v. Siuma - Pa. Super. - November 3, 2011

A petition to open a default judgment is an appeal to the equitable powers of the court. Absent an error of law or a clear, manifest abuse of discretion, it will not be disturbed on appeal.

An abuse of discretion occurs when a trial court, in reaching its conclusions, overrides or misapplies the law, or exercises judgment which is manifestly unreasonable, or the result of partiality, prejudice, bias or ill will. US Bank N.A. v. Mallory, 982 A.2d 986, 994 (Pa.Super. 2009)

Generally speaking, a default judgment may be opened if the moving party has (1) promptly filed a petition to open the default judgment, (2) provided a reasonable excuse or explanation for failing to file a responsive pleading, and (3) pleaded a meritorious defense to the allegations contained in the complaint. McFarland v. Whitham, 518 Pa. 496, 544 A.2d 929
(1988); Seeger v. First Union National Bank, 836 A.2d 163 (Pa.Super. 2003).

Where a petition to open is filed within ten days of the entry of judgment and is accompanied by a proposed answer offering a meritorious defense, the court shall open the judgment. See Estate of Considine v. Wachovia Bank, 966 A.2d 1148 (Pa.Super. 2009).

The timeliness of a petition to open a judgment is measured from the date that notice of the entry of the default judgment is received. The law does not establish a specific time period within which a petition to open a judgment must be filed to qualify as timely. Instead, the court must consider the length of time between discovery of the entry of the default judgment and the reason for delay. In cases where the appellate courts have found a “prompt” and timely filing of the petition to open a default judgment, the period of delay has normally been less than one month. See Duckson v. Wee Wheelers, Inc., 423 Pa.Super. 251, 620 A.2d 1206 (Pa.Super. 1993) (one day is timely); Alba v. Urology Associates of Kingston, 409 Pa.Super. 406, 598 A.2d 57 (Pa.Super. 1991) (fourteen days is timely); Fink v. General Accident Ins. Co., 406 Pa.Super. 294, 594 A.2d 345 (Pa.Super. 1991) (period of five days is timely). US Bank N.A., 982 A.2d at 995 (quotation omitted) (finding eighty-two day delay was not timely). See Myers v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 986 A.2d 171 (Pa.Super. 2009) (indicating delay of fourteen days in filing petition to open was timely); Pappas v. Stefan, 304 A.2d 143 (Pa.Super. 1973) (fifty-five day delay was not prompt).

‘[W]hether an excuse is legitimate is not easily answered and depends upon the specific circumstances of the case. The appellate courts have usually addressed the question of legitimate excuse in the context of an excuse for failure to respond to the original complaint in a timely fashion.’ US Bank N.A., 982 A.2d at 995.