After obtaining a default judgment on claims for conversion and malicious prosecution, a plaintiff must “prove the extent of her claimed damages,” and defendant should be given “an opportunity to rebut her evidence or present evidence of his own on the question of damages for those claims before entering a final judgment.”
In Husk v. Thompson, No. M2016-01481-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 10, 2017), plaintiff and defendant had lived together before a contentious separation. Plaintiff was charged with domestic assault and ordered not to return to the shared apartment. Plaintiff continued paying her half of the rent for three months even though she was not living there. When defendant failed to pay his portion of the rent due for the apartment two months in a row, plaintiff paid the full amount. Further, there were issues regarding personal property.
Plaintiff filed this suit for conversion, unjust enrichment, and malicious prosecution. Defendant received notice of the suit and was then served at the sheriff’s office, but he did not file an answer. Plaintiff moved for a default judgment, and when defendant did not show up to the hearing, the default judgment was entered. On the day of the default judgment hearing, the trial court entered an order granting plaintiff $15,577.16 in damages.
Defendant appealed both the entry of default judgment and the damages awarded. The Court of Appeals first affirmed the entry of default judgment, noting that defendant “asserted that he failed to file a timely response because he ‘believed no action would be taken in the civil case’ until the criminal cases involving [plaintiff] were resolved.” The Court found that this argument was “equivalent to a claim of ignorance of the law,” and that “ignorance of the law is not excusable neglect or a proper ground for relief” from a default judgment. (internal citation and quotation omitted). In addition, the Court rejected defendant’s assertion that the judgment should be set aside because he did not receive notice of the motion for default. The Court noted that this was really a credibility issues, and that the trial court had decided against defendant. The Court further noted that “the fact that [defendant] received both the complaint and a copy of the default judgment calls into question the veracity of his claim that he did not receive the motion for default judgment.”