Pay attention to the deadline to answer a petition--Or else!

Mollie Pawlosky Iowa Commercial Litigation Law Dickinson Law Des Moines Iowa

Posted on 12/08/2015 at 01:24 PM by Mollie Pawlosky

Attorneys sometimes fail to pay close attention to answer deadlines, believing that courts are unwilling to enter default judgments. Blanchard v. Houdek, No. 14-1370 (Iowa Court of Appeals Nov. 25, 2015) is a reminder that answer deadlines matter. Blanchard filed two petitions against Houdek in July 2012. The subject matter of both suits was the same subject matter as a previous suit that was previously resolved in Houdek's favor. Houdek was served the day after the petitions were filed.

On August 7, 2012, Houdek asked for and received a one week extension. Over thirty days later, on September 17, 2012, Blanchard's counsel emailed Houdek's counsel as to the status, receiving no response. On October 27, 2012, forty days later, Blanchard's counsel sent Houdek's counsel a notice of intention to file an application for default. Houdek's counsel filed an appearance on November 5, 2012, and emailed Blanchard's counsel, stating, My secretary's computer died with no current backup. We have been scrambling. Thank you for your patience. I need a little more. On December 20, 2012, another forty days later, Blanchard applied for default judgment.

One week later, the district court entered an order granting default and setting a hearing to determine Blanchard's damages for February 25, 2013. Houdek's counsel came to the February 25, 2013 hearing, filed a motion for leave to file an answer, and filed Houdek's answer. He also moved to set aside the default. His motion stated that he had failed to raise these arguments due to excusable neglect because of his secretary's computer loss with no backup. The district court granted the motion to set aside the default. Blanchard appealed, arguing that it was an abuse of discretion to set aside the default judgment.

The Court of Appeals agreed, holding that the Plaintiff's error in filing claims that were precluded by a prior suit, and the court's error in entering a default in Plaintiff's favor on such claims did not relieve defendant's obligation to answer. The rule allowing vacation of default judgments lists specific reasons for setting aside default judgments, and did not include Blanchard's error in filing suit or the court's error in entering default. Further, the Court of Appeals held that Houdek failed to show excusable neglect, which could have provided a basis for setting aside the default judgment. The appellate court recited the chronology of filing and service in July 2012, Houdek's counsel's indication of intention to answer in August 2012 and November 2012, the notice of default, and the filing of the answer on February 25, 2013. Filing an answer more than two months after default was entered and more than eight months after filing of the petition showed a deliberate intent to ignore the rules, such that it was an abuse of discretion to vacate the default. For questions regarding Blanchard v. Houdek, or regarding Iowa civil procedure, contact Mollie Pawlosky.

The material in this blog is not intended, nor should it be construed or relied upon, as legal advice. Please consult with an attorney if specific legal information is needed.


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