According to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 55 governs defaults and default judgments. A default judgment is a binding judgment and is entered by a clerk or judge when the defendant failed to respond to the plaintiff's complaint. The default may be set aside or vacated if the defendant can show good cause under Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Default v. Default Judgments
A default judgment is distinctive from a default. A default is a clerical entry entered by the clerk of the court when the defendant has not plead, answered or otherwise defended himself against the plaintiff's complaint for affirmative relief and that failure is shown by an affidavit or other means.
Generally, to obtain a default, the plaintiff must show that the defendant was properly served with the lawsuit and failed to respond in the time allowed. This showing is typically accomplished when the plaintiff files a proof of service and the defendant fails to respond in requisite time allowed. Once the clerk enters a default, the plaintiff may then obtain a default judgment which is binding against the defendant.
Obtaining a Default Judgment
If the plaintiff is seeking a specific sum and can provide an affidavit showing the amount due, the clerk will enter the default judgment against the defendant for that sum plus costs. In all other cases, and all cases involving minors or incompetent persons, the plaintiff must apply to the court for a default judgment.
Before entering the default judgment, the court may conduct hearings to conduct an accounting, determine the amount of damages, establish the truth of any allegation by evidence or investigate any other related matter as necessary.
Relief from a Default Judgment
Rule 60 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs relief from judgments or court orders and subsection (b) specifically covers grounds for relief from final judgments, orders or proceedings including default judgments.
To obtain relief from a default judgment, the defendant must bring a motion to vacate and demonstrate he had a valid excuse for not responding in a timely fashion.
The following excuses may grant the defendant relief:
- There was a mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.
- Newly discovered evidence has come to light that could not have previously been discovered through reasonable diligence in time to move for a new trial.
- There was fraud, misrepresentation or misconduct by the opposing party.
- The judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged or it was based on an earlier judgment that has been reversed or vacated.
- The judgment itself is void or applying it prospectively is no longer equitable.
The court will also consider and may grant relief for any other justified reason in the delay.
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