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Alabama Default Judgments – How to Set Aside a Default Judgment in Alabama

by William L. Pfeifer, Jr. on November 10, 2011

in Appeals, Civil Procedure

If a default judgment has been entered against you in Alabama, there is a procedure for having that judgment set aside. Rule 55(c) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure gives trial court judges the discretionary authority to set aside default judgments. The starting point in having the default judgment vacated or set aside is, not surprisingly, to file what is called a Motion to Set Aside Default Judgment. This should be filed as a verified motion or with supporting affidavits whenever possible.

In the case of Kirtland v. Fort Morgan Authority Sewer Services, Inc., 524 So. 2d 600 (Ala. 1988), the Alabama Supreme Court established clear guidelines to assist trial courts in deciding whether to set aside a default judgment. In Kirtland, the Alabama Supreme Court said the trial court should consider three factors:

  1. whether the defendant has a meritorious defense;
  2. whether the plaintiff will be unfairly prejudiced if the default judgment is set aside;
  3. whether the default judgment was a result of the defendant’s own culpable conduct.
To establish a meritorious defense, the defendant does not have to prove that he or she would win at trial, but merely show that he or she is prepared to present a plausible defense. To show unfair prejudice, a plaintiff would have to show more than just delay or additional costs, but would have to demonstrate that he or she suffered a substantial prejudice. As for whether the defendant’s actions constituted culpable conduct, the appellate courts have said that culpable conduct is defined as conduct that is willful, in bad faith, or disrespectful toward the judicial system.

 

In an appeal of the judge’s ruling on a motion to set aside default judgment, the standard of review applied by the appellate courts is whether the trial court’s order constituted an abuse of discretion. However, the Alabama Supreme Court has repeatedly held that this discretion should weigh in favor of the defaulting party if there is doubt regarding the propriety of the judgment. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals has likewise held that a trial court should start with the presumption that cases should be decided on the merits whenever practicable. SeeBuster v. Buster, 946 So. 2d 474 (Ala. Civ. App. 2006).

If you need to challenge a default judgment that has been entered against you, or if you need to appeal a trial court’s order granting or denying a motion to set aside a default judgment, please contact our office to discuss your rights in the Alabama appellate court process.

 

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