BILLY CARL TOMLIN ET AL. V. BETTY BAXTER ET AL. - Articles

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Posted by: Chandra Williams on Dec 1, 2015

Court: TN Court of Appeals

Attorneys 1:

Michael B. Schwegler; Earnest B. Williams IV; and John A. Bell, Jr., Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellants, Betty Baxter and Dean Baulding Baxter.

Attorneys 2:

Michael B. Schwegler; Earnest B. Williams IV; and John A. Bell, Jr., Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellants, Betty Baxter and Dean Baulding Baxter.

Judge(s): CLEMENT

This appeal arises from a judgment for a post-foreclosure deficiency owing on a promissory note. The dispositive issue on appeal is whether the trial court erred in denying Defendants’ motion for relief under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 from the final judgment. After Defendants filed an answer to the complaint, they subsequently failed to comply with orders of the court, and, upon motion of Plaintiffs, a default judgment on liability was entered in 2012. The hearing on damages, which was set to be heard four weeks later, was continued by agreement more than a dozen times over two years while the parties attempted to reach a settlement. No settlement was reached, and the hearing on damages was held in May 2014, during which Plaintiffs introduced evidence to establish their damages; however, neither Defendants nor their counsel appeared. Following the evidentiary hearing on damages, the court awarded Plaintiffs damages of $153,328.26, and a final judgment was entered. Three months later, Defendants filed a “Motion to Set Aside Default Judgment” under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 60.02, seeking to set aside the May 2014 order on the grounds of excusable neglect. The trial court denied relief. On appeal, Defendants contend the court erred in denying their motion because their failure to attend the damages hearing can be justified by confusion and lack of notice. They also contend the court erred in awarding default judgment because they filed a joint answer to the complaint. We conclude that the damages judgment Defendants sought to have set aside was not a default judgment, but was a final judgment following an evidentiary hearing. Further, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Rule 60 relief from the damages judgment because Defendants failed to establish excusable neglect for not attending the 2014 hearing. We also hold that, although Defendants filed an answer to the complaint, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in entering a default judgment as to liability because Defendants failed to defend the claim in the time frame as ordered by the court. See Tenn. R. Civ. P. 55.01. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court in all respects.

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