CoA upheld a trial court’s default judgment where the defaulted party committed a series of errors over a period of months. The relevant timeline is as follows:
- Oct. 23, 2012, Plaintiff files complaint
- Oct. 27, 2012, Plaintiff personally serves Defendant, who lives across the hall from Plaintiff
- Dec. 4, 2012, Plaintiff files motion for entry of default
- Dec. 6, 2012 Defendant admits receiving this motion on this date
- Dec. 10, 2012 Defendant writes letter to Trial Court requesting additional time to obtain counsel. Letter not received until one week later
- Dec. 11, 2012 Plaintiff obtains default and matter is set for hearing on Feb. 19, 2013 to assess damages
- Feb. 19, 2013, at hearing on damages,Defendant does not appear but Trial Court receives letter from him requesting continuance, which Trial Court grants with no further extensions of time
- March 19, 2013, Defendant again does not appear and Court states it will grant default judgment of ~$40,000
- After hearing, Trial Court receives letter from Defendant citing jury obligation and requesting another continuance
- April 1, 2013, Trial Court confirms Defendant did not in fact have to report for jury duty and enters default judgment
- April 3, 2013, Defendant appears by counsel and files vague motion to set aside one month later, which was denied
While the CoA acknowledged the policy of favoring trying cases on the merits, it could not ignore that Defendant failed to show excusable neglect. CoA further stated that a “lack of personal jurisdiction” argument, if made, would have fallen under Rule 60(B)(6) which was not cited by Defendant.
Ultimately, CoA affirmed default but the case is a rather extreme example of Defendant error in responding to a lawsuit and then asserting vague arguments in attempting to lift the default.
The Indiana Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court’s holding that a medical malpractice complaint could only be deemed filed as of the date of mailing if, and only if, the complaint were sent out via registered or certified mail. This interpretation of Ind. Code § 34-18-7-3(b) excluded delivery services such as FedEx or UPS. Thus, a party filing a medical malpractice complaint via FedEx, as in this case, would have their complaint with the Dept. of Insurance deemed filed on the date of receipt by the DOI rather than the date it was sent out. Here, it meant the filing of the complaint occurred after the statute of limitations expired.
On a petition for rehearing (which was denied without any further opinion), the plaintiff raised for the first time that Ind. Code § 1-1-7-1(a) should control. That statute reads in relevant part:
If a statute enacted by the general assembly or a rule . . . requires that notice or other matter be given or sent by registered mail or certified mail, a person may use: (1) any service of the United States Postal Service [“USPS”] or any service of a designated private delivery service (as defined by the United States Internal Revenue Service) that: (A) tracks the delivery of mail; and (B) requires a signature upon delivery . . . .
Id. (emphasis added in opinion).
Thus, two issues were presented to the Court: 1) could the plaintiff raise this argument for the first time on rehearing, and 2) could the above statute control the application of Ind. Code § 34-18-7-3(b). The Supreme Court answered both of these questions in the affirmative.
As to the first point, the Court observed: “The crucial factor, however, in determining whether [the plaintiff] may interject what appears to be a new issue into the appeal is whether [the defendant] had unequivocal notice of the existence of the issue and, therefore, had an opportunity to defend against it.” Hochstedler v. St. Joseph Cnty. Solid Waste Mgmt. Dist., 770 N.E.2d 910, 918 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002), trans. denied. The Court found that the issue of whether the complaint was timely filed was clearly conveyed at all levels and so defendants’ objection on this argument was overruled.
On the second, the Court focused on two portions of the statute: 1) that the med mal statute required delivery by registered or certified mail in order to deem a complaint filed; and 2) that the filing of the complaint fell under the “or other matter” provision.
In closing the Court emphasized that its opinion was an elevation of “form over substance” and observed that there really was no difference anyway between filing a complaint via FedEx or UPS overnight and doing so via registered or certified mail.
Evidence obtained after entry of an order granting a motion for partial summary judgment may not form the basis for vacating that order. Relief from judgment under Indiana Trial Rules is not limited to final judgments.
In case where motion to amend complaint, adding new defendants, along with proposed amended complaint was filed before statute of limitations but amended complaint and issue of summons were approved after SOL expired, suit was timely filed as to newly added Defendants. Court expressly abrogated the position it took on the same fact pattern presented in A. J.’s Auto. Sales v. Freet, 725 N.E.2d 955 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000) (a case decided at the trial level by Judge Crone and at the appellate level by Judge Friedlander, Sr. Judge Garrard, and Judge Darden, none of whom participated in this opinion). Instead, the panel took the occasion to adopt the majority view on this issue and deemed that the addition of the defendants was timely by virtue of the filed motion and proposed complaint.