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Sunday, January 01, 2012

Ind. Decisions - "Ex-Pacers player wins bar-fight issue in Indiana court"

Carrie Ritchie of the Indianapolis Star reported on the Court of Appeals Not-for-Publication (NFP) opinion in Jamaal Tinsley v. Nancy Parrish issued Dec. 30:

A lawsuit over a bar fight involving former Pacer Jamaal Tinsley should go back to a Marion County court, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

The suit stems from a February 2007 fight over an alleged coat thief at 8 Seconds Saloon on the city’s west side. * * *

Marion Superior Court judge Thomas J. Carroll defaulted Tinsley after he failed to respond to the suit and awarded Parrish $225,000. Tinsley later said he never received letters notifying him of the suit and asked Carroll to set aside his ruling. Carroll declined and Tinsley appealed.

The court of appeals ruled today that Carroll abused his discretion in denying Tinsley’s request and sent the case back to Carroll’s court.

ILB: Well, that brief description left me curious for the COA's rationale. Here are the details from the 16-page opinion itself, authored by COA Judge Brown:
Tinsley maintains that the court abused its discretion in denying his motion to set aside default judgment. Tinsley cites to Ind. Trial Rule 60(B)(1) and argues that he “established excusable neglect that warranted setting aside the default judgment” and that he and his personal assistant “had no actual knowledge of this lawsuit until after the default had been entered and Tinsley’s wages had been garnished.” Tinsley argues that he established that “had he known about this lawsuit he would have taken the relatively easy action of having his counsel from [another civil lawsuit] appear and defend this one,” that “considerable injustice would result from leaving [the] default intact due to the size of the judgment: $225,000,” and finally that “he had meritorious defenses to the lawsuit: self-defense and that he did not proximately cause Parrish’s injuries.” * * *

Default judgments are not favored in Indiana. Shane v. Home Depot USA, Inc., 869 N.E.2d 1232, 1234 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007). Any doubt as to the propriety of a default judgment must be resolved in favor of the defaulted party. Watson, 747 N.E.2d at 547. “Moreover, no fixed rules or standards have been established because the circumstances of no two cases are alike.” Kmart v. Englebright, 719 N.E.2d 1249, 1253 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999) (citing Siebert Oxidermo, Inc. v. Shields, 446 N.E.2d 332, 340 (Ind. 1983)), trans. denied. “A cautious approach to the grant of motions for default judgment is warranted in ‘cases involving material issues of fact, substantial amounts of money, or weighty policy determinations.’” Id. (citing Green v. Karol, 168 Ind. App. 467, 473-474, 344 N.E.2d 106, 110-111 (1976)). In addition, the trial court must balance the need for an efficient judicial system with the judicial preference for deciding disputes on the merits. * * *

There is no general rule as to what constitutes excusable neglect under Trial Rule 60(B)(1). Id. at 1254 (citing In re Marriage of Ransom, 531 N.E.2d 1171, 1172 (Ind. 1988)). Each case must be determined on its particular facts. Id. (citing Boles v. Weidner, 449 N.E.2d 288, 290 (Ind. 1983)). * * *

Based upon the record, and in light of the issues of fact accompanying the allegations, the length of the delay, the amount of money at issue, and the absence of evidence of prejudice to Parrish by the delay, we conclude that Tinsley’s failure to respond to Parrish’s complaint constituted excusable neglect under Trial Rule 60(B)(1). See Kmart, 719 N.E.2d at 1257-1258 (holding that Kmart’s failure to respond to Englebright’s complaint constituted excusable neglect under Trial Rule 60(B)(1) and reversing the court’s denial of Kmart’s motion to set aside default judgment).

However, in order to obtain relief under Trial Rule 60(B)(1), Tinsley must also show that he alleged a meritorious defense. The rule by its terms requires only an allegation of a meritorious defense. * * *

Tinsley was required only to allege a meritorious defense and was not required to present admissible evidence to satisfy the requirement. * * *

Based upon the record, we find that Tinsley alleged a meritorious defense to Parrish’s claim which would specifically negate an element of her claim against him. See Kmart, 719 N.E.2d at 1259 (holding that Kmart presented “a meritorious defense to Englebright’s [negligence] claim, specifically negating the causation element”).

Finding that Tinsley has established that he was entitled to relief from the default judgment by demonstrating excusable neglect and a meritorious defense, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in denying Tinsley’s Trial Rule 60(B)(1) motion to set aside the default judgment. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 1, 2012 10:40 AM
Posted to Ind. App.Ct. Decisions