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New Mexico Federal Trial Court Enters Default Judgment Against Defendant Who Does Not Respond to Complaint

Sometimes plaintiffs in New Mexico civil cases win their cases after proceeding to trial.  A recent ruling shows that a win can also be had by default when the defendant is non-responsive to service of process.

The plaintiffs in the case were migrant workers, who filed a complaint with the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.  Service of process was attempted on the defendant on behalf of the plaintiffs, but it was unsuccessful.  The plaintiffs successfully moved the court thereafter to allow for alternative service of process.  The summons was returned executed and the complaint was left with the defendant’s father at a residence owned by the defendant.

According to the court’s ruling, the defendant against whom default judgment was sought did not file an answer to the complaint by the due date, appear before the court or file any pleadings with the court.  A recovery could not be had from a co-defendant, who the court explained had received a discharge in a bankruptcy case, making it essential for the plaintiffs to recover from the defaulting defendant if the law allowed for a default judgment.

The court opened its discussion of liability with a discussion of Rule 55 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  Rule 55 contemplates a two-step process.  First the party seeking entry of a default judgment must obtain a Clerk’s entry of default.  Next the party must request from the court a default judgment.  The plaintiffs had taken both steps.

The court explained that parties are not entitled to default judgment as of right.  Rather, whether to enter default judgment in a case is left to the sound discretion of the court.  In this case the court was satisfied with the service of process on the defendant’s father at a residence the defendant owned.  According to the court the defendant’s father said he was in touch with his son.  The court was also satisfied that it could exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendant because the complaint concerned happenings on his farm in New Mexico.  The court observed that a decision on the merits is strongly preferred, but at the same time, the court was sympathetic to the plaintiffs because the defendant had been non-responsive and plaintiffs experienced a delay as a consequence.  Accordingly the court entered statutory damages in favor of the plaintiffs.  The court also concluded that the plaintiffs were entitled to post-judgment interest on the statutory damages.

If you or a loved one has been injured by someone else’s actions you may be entitled by law to receive a monetary award.  Collecting can help offset costs resulting from an injury including medical bills and lost wages.  The legal process for pursing a recovery can be complex and you should not have to undertake the burden of navigating this legal process on your own.  At the Law Office of Matthew Vance, P.C., we zealously represent our clients.  To contact the Law Office of Matthew Vance, P.C., please call (505) 242-6267 or (505) 317-3118 (Skype). Alternatively, we can also be reached by email at the following email addresses:

mattvance@mattvancelaw.com
jennifer@mattvancelaw.com
amanda@mattvancelaw.com