Firm Obtains Reversal of Order Denying Rule 1.540(b) Motion for Relief from Judgment

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Richards v. Crowder, Case No. 4D15-4034 (Fla. 4th DCA, May 10, 2016)*

In a recent appeal, The Law Offices of Robin Bresky represented an individual whose former girlfriend filed a petition for an injunction against him to seek protection from alleged stalking. Our client did not appear at the evidentiary hearing on the final injunction because he did not understand the significance of the legal papers served on him and he could not find someone to cover his work shift on short notice.  Following the evidentiary hearing, a default final judgment of injunction was entered against him.

Thereafter, our client retained counsel and moved for relief from judgment under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.540(b)(1). He attached supporting affidavits and claimed excusable neglect because he possesses low average intelligence which rendered him unable to interpret the meaning and significance of the legal papers. The motion also alleged that his conduct relating to his former girlfriend served a legitimate purpose and that he had a meritorious defense to the petition. Without conducting an evidentiary hearing, the trial court summarily denied his motion.

The Firm’s Of Counsel attorney Michele K. Feinzig and Associate Attorney Jeremy Dicker argued on appeal that the trial court abused its discretion in summarily denying the motion for relief from judgment. We contended that the motion established a colorable entitlement to relief because our client’s low average intelligence rendered him unable to interpret the significance of the legal papers served on him before the default final judgment. The Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the motion without first conducting an evidentiary hearing, where a colorable entitlement to relief was presented in the motion for relief from judgment. The Fourth District explained that illness or psychological conditions, as well as difficulties with reading and comprehending, can form the basis of a finding of excusable neglect warranting relief from a judgment.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal thus reversed the order denying the motion for relief from judgment and remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing in the trial court. Our client will now have an opportunity to present evidence demonstrating why the final judgment should be vacated and, if he is successful, to oppose the petition on its merits and hopefully avoid the permanent consequences of a final injunction.

Update: On remand from the Fourth District, our client was successful in having the trial court grant his motion for relief from judgment, vacate the default final judgment of injunction against him, and dismiss the petition.