Sewell v. Xpress Lube, 2013 UT 61 (October 18, 2013)
Oct 18, 2013
In this personal injury case, the plaintiff secured a default judgment against an oil and lube business owned by a sole proprietor approximately one month after it served the complaint and summons on an employee of the business. Sewell, 2013 UT 61, ¶ 8. The district court denied the business’s motion to have the default judgment set aside and awarded the plaintiff the full $600,000 he requested for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering without holding an evidentiary hearing. Id. ¶ 9. The Utah Supreme Court vacated the default judgment on three independent and alternative grounds. Id. ¶ 41. First, the court held that the default judgment was void for lack of proper service under rule 4(d)(1)(A) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure because the plaintiff served the complaint and summons on an employee rather than on the sole proprietor himself. Id. Second, the court held that the district court abused its discretion in failing to grant the business’s rule 60(b)(1) motion to have the default judgment set aside after the business had shown that its failure to answer the complaint was the result of mistake, inadvertence, or excusable neglect. Id. And finally, the court held that the district court abused its discretion by awarding damages without holding a hearing because rule 55(b)(2) requires a damages hearing when damages are unliquidated, regardless of the allegations in the complaint. Id.