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Rittler v. Barlow

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

August 29, 2014

RONALD L. RITTLER Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL W. BARLOW Defendant.

Submitted: May 14, 2014

Upon Defendant's Motion Seeking Relief from Inquisition Hearing,

Steven F. Mones, Esq., The Freibott Law Firm P.A., Attorney for Plaintiff

Michael W. Barlow, pro se

M. Jane Brady Superior Court Judge

I. Introduction

On June 24, 2010, John Rittler ("Plaintiff") was awarded a judgment in the amount of $25, 000 from Michael Barlow ("Defendant"). Almost three and a half years later, on December 2, 2013, Defendant filed a Motion for Review seeking relief from that judgment because he never received notice of the inquisition hearing where the amount of the judgment was decided. A hearing was held on May 8, 2014 on the Motion, and decision was reserved. For the reasons discussed below, the Defendant's motion is DENIED.

II. Facts

On September 17, 2007, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court seeking damages from Defendant.[1] Although Defendant was properly served with the Complaint, he did not file a responsive pleading nor enter an appearance in the case.[2] Plaintiff moved for default judgment, and Defendant was properly noticed of the Motion.[3] Defendant did not respond. A default judgment was entered against Defendant on March 27, 2008.[4] An inquisition hearing was scheduled for June 14, 2010, to determine the amount of the default judgment.[5] However, because of a clerical error by Court personnel, Defendant did not receive proper notice of the hearing to determine the amount of the default judgment.[6] As a result, Defendant failed to appear at the inquisition hearing.[7] Following the inquisition hearing, on June 24, 2010, a judgment in the amount of $25, 000 plus costs and interest was entered.[8] On October 8, 2010, less than four months after the inquisition hearing, Defendant attended a deposition in aid of execution. At the deposition, Defendant was aware of the judgment and the amount.[9] Defendant stated that he never received notice of the inquisition hearing, but continued with the deposition.[10]

Almost three and a half years after the $25, 000 judgment was entered, on December 2, 2013, Defendant filed the subject motion with the Court, seeking to have the judgment set aside, because he did not receive proper notice of the inquisition hearing.[11] Plaintiff argues that Defendant's motion should be denied, because Defendant did not raise the issue in a timely manner despite having actual knowledge of the judgment against him and the amount of the judgment.[12]

III. Legal Standard

Under Rule 60(a), "the Court may relieve a party . . . from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for . . . [m]istake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect."[13] "Delaware courts afford Rule 60(b) 'liberal construction;"' however, to grant relief, the court must find there was:

(1) excusable neglect in the conduct that allowed the default judgment to be taken; (2) a meritorious defense to the action that would allow a different outcome to the litigation if the matter was heard on its merits; and (3) a showing that substantial prejudice will not be suffered by the plaintiff if the motion is granted.[14]

The Court will only consider the second two elements of the three-pronged test "if a satisfactory explanation has been established for failing to answer, e.g. excusable neglect or inadvertence."[15] Excusable neglect has been defined as "neglect which might have been the act of a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances."[16] "A mere showing of negligence or carelessness without a valid reason may be deemed insufficient."[17] "[A] defendant cannot have a judgment vacated where it has 'simply ignored the process.'"[18] Further, it is well established in Delaware that procedural requirements are not relaxed for pro se litigants.[19] Therefore, this Court must first determine whether Defendant's failure ...


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