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Menard, Inc. v. Lane

Court of Appeals of Indiana

February 1, 2017

Menard, Inc., Appellant-Defendant,
v.
Reba Lane, Appellee-Plaintiff.

         Appeal from the Lake County Circuit Court The Honorable George Paras, Judge; The Honorable Robert Vann, Magistrate Trial Court Cause No. 45C01-1308-CT-128

          Attorney for Appellant Bruce P. Clark Bruce P. Clark & Associates Saint John, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Duke T. Escue Walter J. Alvarez Walter J. Alvarez, P.C. Crown Point, Indiana

          May, Judge.

         [¶1] Menard, Inc. ("Menard") appeals the denial of its motion to set aside the default judgment entered in favor of Reba Lane when Menard failed to appear or defend itself against her personal injury suit. As we conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Menard's motion to set aside the default judgment, we affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] On August 29, 2013, Lane filed a personal injury claim against Menard alleging she suffered injuries as a result of a malfunctioning shopping cart at the Menard store in Gary, Indiana. On September 16, 2013, Lane sent a summons to Menard's former registered agent, CT Corporation. On September 24, 2013, CT Corporation sent Lane correspondence indicating:

Menard Inc. is inactive on the records of the State of [Indiana]. Our services for this entity have also been discontinued for more than five (5) years and, as such, we no longer maintain an active record of this entity. Since we have no address to which to forward this process, we have not done so.

(App. Vol. II at 68.)

         [¶3] On September 19, 2013, Sergeant Brian Coubal with the Lake County Sheriff's Department served the summons at the Menard store in Gary, Indiana. The summons was addressed to "Attn: Highest Executive Officer Found on Premises." (Id. at 10.) Sergeant Coubal also mailed, via certified mail with return receipt requested, a copy of the summons to the store's address with the same direction to deliver it to the highest executive officer found on the premises, and Sergeant Coubal received the return receipt.[1]

         [¶4] On January 7, 2014, Lane filed a Request for Entry of Default Judgment because Menard had not answered her complaint. The trial court granted her request on March 17, 2014, and held a damages hearing on May 15, 2014. On May 29, 2014, the trial court awarded $500, 000.00 in damages to Lane and entered judgment therefor.

         [¶5] On July 25, 2014, Lane filed a Motion to Enforce Judgment by Proceedings Supplemental. Lane sent a copy of that motion to the Menard store address in Gary, Indiana, via regular mail. On August 19, 2014, counsel for Menard entered an appearance and filed a motion to set aside default judgment, arguing the default judgment was void under Indiana Trial Rule 60(B)(6) for lack of personal jurisdiction based on several alleged defects in service; was "tainted" by attorney misconduct under Trial Rule 60(B)(3) and the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct; and was a product of excusable neglect under Trial Rule 60(B)(1). (App. Vol. II at 25.)

         [¶6] The parties filed reply and supplemental briefs for almost a year. The trial court held oral argument on the matter on June 4, 2015. On May 6, 2016, the trial court denied Menard's motion to set aside default judgment.

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶7] A default judgment "is an extreme remedy and is available only where that party fails to defend or prosecute a suit." Smith v. Johnston, 711 N.E.2d 1259, 1264 (Ind. 1999). "A judgment by default which has been entered may be set aside by the court for the grounds and in accordance with the provisions of [Trial Rule] 60(B)." Ind. Trial Rule 55(C). "In general, we review a trial court's denial of a motion to set aside judgment for an abuse of discretion, and in so doing, determine whether the trial court's judgment is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and inferences supporting the judgment." LePore v. Norwest Bank Indiana, N.A., 860 N.E.2d 632, 634 (Ind.Ct.App. 2007).

         Service of Process

         [¶8] Trial Rule 60(B)(6) allows for relief from a default judgment if a judgment is void. Our standard of review regarding the trial court's decision on a Trial Rule 60(B)(6) motion is well-settled:

[A] trial court has no discretion on how to rule on a Trial Rule 60(B)(6) motion once a judgment is determined to be either void or valid. If a judgment is void, the trial court cannot enforce it and the motion under 60(B)(6) must be granted; if a judgment is valid, the trial court cannot declare it void and the motion must be denied.

Anderson v. Wayne Post 64, 4 N.E.3d 1200, 1205 (Ind.Ct.App. 2014), trans. denied. One reason a judgment may be void is for inadequate service on a ...


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