During a tort court case, a judge has two options when deciding which party wins: siding with the plaintiff or the defendant. When the defendant loses, a judgment is issued against her. In other words, the defendant must return property or pay the plaintiff money. However, the case isn't necessarily over. The defendant can appeal the ruling and seek an outcome reversal when a default judgment is issued.
Default Judgment Definition
A default judgment occurs when the defendant does not respond to the filed complaint. Generally, the defendant has a specific amount of time to provide to the court an answer as to why she doesn't owe the money. Thus, when the defendant does not file an answer, the plaintiff automatically wins without going to trial.
Reversal of Judgment Definition
A reversal of judgment means that the court dismisses the default judgment against the defendant. Thus, the court sets aside or vacates the judgment as though it never existed. The judgment, therefore, is no longer binding, and the defendant doesn't owe the plaintiff money or have to return property. For example, if a credit card company sues the defendant for money owed and the defendant is granted a reversal, then he temporarily doesn't owe the money.
Reasons for a Reverse Judgment
To reverse a judgment, the defendant has to show cause. According to the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, the court typically vacates a default judgment because of lack of personal jurisdiction or an excusable default. Lack of personal jurisdiction generally means improper service. For example, the plaintiff didn't have the correct address for the defendant. Therefore, the defendant wasn't able to defend himself in court because he didn't know about the lawsuit. Excusable default deals with the reason why the defendant missed the court date, such as being incarcerated, out of town or hospitalized. Another excusable default is that the defendant didn't owe the money. For instance, he wouldn't owe the money if he were a victim of identity theft.
Starting the Reverse Judgment Procedure
To reverse a judgment, the defendant must file a motion with the same court that issued the default judgment. The motion to vacate the judgment includes the reason why she's seeking a dismissal, and the defendant may have to pay a filing fee when submitting the motion to the court. Depending on the court's rules, she may also have to serve a copy of the motion to the plaintiff. Once filed, she receives a hearing where the judge decides to either grant or reject the motion. The hearing isn't ex-parte. Thus, the plaintiff is also notified about the upcoming court date.
Reverse Judgment Considerations
A vacated judgment is not the end of the court case; instead, the original case is reopened. Thus the defendant continues to fight the case. She must file an answer with the court and attend at least one court hearing, according to NEDAP. However, the plaintiff may also try to settle with the defendant out of court. An out-of-court settlement is often for less money than the plaintiff was seeking.
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