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Wooten v. Wentworth Entertainment Group, LLC

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, First Division

April 19, 2018

DENNY L. WOOTEN, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
WENTWORTH ENTERTAINMENT GROUP, LLC, Defendant, and JAMES RILEY, Defendant-Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF TANEY COUNTY Honorable Eric Eighmy Judge.

          GARY W. LYNCH, JUDGE.

         James Riley ("Riley") appeals from the trial court's denial of his Rule 74.05(d) motion to set aside a default judgment against him and in favor of Denny L. Wooten ("Wooten").[1] Riley raises three points of alleged trial court error. Because Riley fails to demonstrate the trial court's denial of his motion to set aside the default judgment was an abuse of its discretion, we affirm.

         Fact and Procedural Background

         In 2015, Wooten filed suit in the Circuit Court of Taney County seeking relief from multiple defendants, including Riley, Wentworth Entertainment Group, LLC ("Wentworth"), and RFD-TV the Theater, LLC ("RFD-TV"), based on allegations that Wooten had provided but not been compensated for $7, 000 in welding services performed at the RFD-TV theater in Branson. Riley was served personally with a summons and the petition. Two continuances followed, and the matter was set for hearing on February 4, 2016.

         On the morning of February 4, 2016, the clerk's office received a letter via facsimile, purportedly from Riley, requesting that the hearing be rescheduled due to the fact that Riley's car was "broken" and he could not secure transportation from Texas to Missouri to appear ("the letter"). The record does not indicate that the trial court explicitly ruled on the request in the letter; instead, the hearing went ahead as scheduled. Wooten and RFD-TV appeared, but Riley and Wentworth did not and were adjudged in default. A written interlocutory default judgment for $7, 000 against Riley and Wentworth, jointly and severally, was issued on February 9, 2016, and on that date a notice of entry of that judgment was sent to Riley by the clerk of the court. On May 17, 2016, the trial court granted Wooten's motion to sever RFD-TV from the case and restyled its interlocutory default judgment as its final default judgment. On August, 4, 2016, Wooten served Riley with post-judgment discovery requests via certified mail, return receipt requested.

         On May 12, 2017, Riley received notice that the default judgment had been filed as a foreign judgment in a Texas court. Three days later, on May 15, 2017, Riley filed in the circuit court of Taney County, Missouri, a verified motion to set aside the Missouri default judgment ("the motion to set aside"), stating, among other things, that he "did not become aware of the Court's entry of the Final Default Judgment until May 12, 2017[.]" He conceded in the motion to set aside, however, that he received Wooten's post-judgment discovery requests but argued that the documents did not put him on notice of the entry of the default judgment. At a hearing on the motion to set aside, counsel for Wooten took issue with this particular allegation, stating, "if [Riley]'s trying to tell the Court that he didn't know about this default judgment and he had no idea any of this happened until after he tried to dismiss the case and judgment in Texas, I don't think he's being candid with the Court."

         The trial court took the matter under advisement and thereafter entered a written judgement, the body of which states in full: "Court hears Argument from both Mr. Riley and Counsel for the Plaintiff. Court reviews Motions and Pleadings. Motion to Set Aside Judgment is denied. Court notes that this case has been viewable on Case Net the entire time." Riley timely appeals this judgment.

         Standard of Review

         A motion to set aside a default judgment is treated as an independent action, which, on appeal, is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Brungard v. Risky's Inc., 240 S.W.3d 685, 687-88 (Mo. banc 2007). A court abuses its discretion when its ruling was clearly against the logic of the circumstances then before the trial court and is so arbitrary and unreasonable as to shock the sense of justice and indicate a lack of careful consideration. State ex rel. Wyeth v. Grady, 262 S.W.3d 216, 219 (Mo. banc 2008). We defer to the trial court's determinations regarding the credibility and weight of evidence. See City of Joplin v. Wallace Bajjali Dev. Partners, L.P., 522 S.W.3d 327, 330 (Mo.App. 2017).

         Discussion

         The trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion to set aside

         Riley's first point contends that the trial court erred in denying the motion to set aside because he "demonstrated" all of the necessary requirements for a default judgement to be set aside per the provisions of Rule 74.05(d). This challenge fails because Riley failed to persuade the trial court, the finder of fact, that he timely filed the motion to set aside-one of the necessary requirements for obtaining relief under Rule 74.05(d).

         In order to seek relief under Rule 74.05(d), Riley had to file the motion to set aside "within a reasonable time not to exceed one year after entry of the default judgment." Rule 74.05(d) (emphasis added). Whether the motion to set aside was filed within a reasonable time depended on the underlying factual circumstances surrounding the delay. Capital One Bank (USA) NA v. Largent, 314 S.W.3d 364, 367 (Mo.App. 2010); cf. First Bank of The Lake, 302 S.W.3d 161, 167-68 (Mo.App. 2009) (no abuse of ...


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