Rip Van Winkle and Default Judgments: Fourth Reverses Order Granting Motion To Vacate Eighteen Year Old Default Judgment

Block v. Tosun
Case No. 4D11-1594

The Fourth District Court of Appeal (“DCA”) reviewed a trial court order granting a motion to vacate an eighteen year old default judgment without an evidentiary hearing. The plaintiff trustees had obtained a default judgment against Tosun in 1992. Eighteen years later, with no record activity having occurred, the trustees served Tosun with a subpoena duces tecum in aid of execution. Tosun moved to vacate the default judgment, claiming he never received service of process. Tosun alleged in his motion that the court file that would contain the return of service had since been destroyed. Tosun also attached an affidavit in which he claimed no recollection of having received the complaint and summons, or the default judgment. However, the clerk’s progress docket contained an entry indicating that Tosun had in fact been served with process. The trial court granted Tosun’s motion to vacate following a non-evidentiary hearing.

On appeal, the Fourth DCA agreed with the trustees that the trial court had erred in concluding that their failure to provide a return of service required the court to set aside the final judgment as a matter of law. The trustees had met their burden by providing the clerk’s progress docket as well as the default judgment. The court stated that “[t]ogether these documents constitute evidence which affords a reasonable basis for the conclusion that it is more likely than not service of process on Tosun was properly perfected in 1992.” The Fourth DCA reversed and remanded for the trial court to conduct an evidentiary hearing on the issue.