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Muller v. Lay

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

October 26, 2016

ANN C. MULLER, Plaintiff,
v.
STEPHANIE S. LAY, Defendant.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTIONS TO SET ASIDE ENTRY OF DEFAULT AND TO VACATE DEFAULT JUDGMENT

          A.M. Horton, Justice, Superior Court

         Defendant Stephanie Lay has filed a Motion to Lift Default and a separate Motion to Vacate Default Judgment. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion to Lift Default is denied but her Motion To Vacate Default Judgment is granted.

         I. Background

         On June 15, 2016, Plaintiff Ann Muller filed a complaint alleging breach of a loan agreement, unjust enrichment, and improvident transfer. According to the complaint, Plaintiff loaned a credit card to Defendant with the understanding that Defendant would repay the resulting balance, including interest. (Pl's Compl. ¶¶ 3_5.) Between 2008 and 2014, Defendant charged $49, 455.50 to the card, which, including interest, resulted in a balance of $62, 097.60. (Id. ¶¶ 6-10.) Plaintiff closed the account in 2014 and paid the balance. (Id. ¶ 9-) Defendant has since paid Plaintiff $15, 000.00, and Plaintiff has applied $7, 000.00 from the parties' joint savings account toward the loan. (Id. ¶¶ 12-14.) Defendant has not paid the remaining balance, which totals $42, 097.60. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.)

         Defendant was served with the summons and complaint in hand on July 11, 2016. Defendant did not answer the complaint, and, on August 12, 2016, Plaintiff requested an entry of default and a default judgment. The clerk entered default and a default judgment on August 17, 2016. On September 1, 2016, Defendant filed (1) an objection to Plaintiffs affidavit and request for a default judgment and (2) a motion to set aside the entry of default. On September 9, 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion to vacate the default judgment. Plaintiff opposed Defendant's motions on September 21, 2016.

         II. Analysis

         A. Standard of Review

         "When a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend as provided by these rules and that fact is made to appear by affidavit or otherwise, the clerk shall enter the party's default." M.R. Civ. P. 55(a).

         When the claim is for "a sum certain or for a sum which can by computation be made certain, " the clerk is further authorized to enter a default judgment. M.R. Civ. P. 55(b)(1). Once a default judgment has been entered, the court may set it aside only in accordance with Rule 60(b). M.R. Civ. P. 55(c). Under Rule 60(b), the movant must show excusable neglect, which requires; (1) a reasonable excuse for the movant's inattention to the court proceedings, and (2) a meritorious defense to the underlying action. Ezell v. Lawless, 2008 ME 139, ¶ 22, 955 A.2d 202. The excusable neglect standard of Rule 60(b) is more stringent than the good cause standard of Rule 55(c). Theriault v. Gauthier, 6S4 A.2d 1255, 1256-57 (Me. 1993).

         B. Motion to Lift Default

         Defendant offers two excuses for her inattention to the court proceedings: (1) she was making salsa for her business when she was served and set the summons and complaint aside, and (2) she assumed the summons and complaint related to a legal dispute involving her son, which her son's father was handling. (Def.'s Mot. Set Aside Default 2; Lay Aff. ¶¶ 5-14.)

         As to Defendant's first argument, the press of other business does not constitute excusable neglect. Steel Serv. Ctr. v. Prince Macaroni Mfg. Co., 438 A.2d 881, 882 (Me. 1981); see Truman v. Browne, 2001 ME 182, ¶¶ 10-11, 788 A.2d 168 (pro se litigants held to same standard as attorneys). Defendant states that she could not look at the summons and complaint when they were served on her because the task of preparing her salsa required her concentration and, when she was finished preparing her salsa, she was exhausted and went straight to bed. (Lay Aff. ¶¶ 9-10, IS.) Defendant offers no explanation for her failure to respond to the complaint within the following 20 days, other than the fact that the summons and complaint became buried on her desk and she forgot about them. (Id. ¶ 14.) The court does not consider this to be a reasonable excuse for Defendant's inattention.

         As to Defendant's second argument, a "mere palpable mistake" does not constitute excusable neglect. Begin v. Jerry's Sunoco, Inc., 435 A.2d 1079, 1083 (Me. 1981). Defendant states that the dispute involving her son, which she mistakenly believed was related to the summons and complaint in this action, involved an ambulance company. (Lay Aff. ¶ 11.) A cursory review of the complaint's caption would have alerted her to the fact that the summons and complaint initiated a new action involving Plaintiff, and not involving any ambulance company. The court does not consider Defendant's failure to review the complaint to be a reasonable excuse for her inattention. Accordingly, the default will stand.

         C. Motion to Vacate ...


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