Obtaining or Defending Against a Default Judgment

If you have been served with a complaint, do not ignore it! A default judgment may be entered against you for failure to respond.

            In Massachusetts, failure to respond to a legal complaint can lead to the entry of a default against the defendant. Once the default is entered, the plaintiff can obtain a default judgment for damages and enforce it against the defendant. If the plaintiff is seeking a “sum certain,” or “a sum which can by computation be made certain,” the default judgment does not even have to go before a judge, but can be entered by a clerk. See Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure 55(b)(1)-(2).

However, “a default does not concede the amount of damages.” Johnny’s Oil Co., Inc. v. Eldayha, No. 11-P-1682, Nov. 8, 2012. In Johnny’s Oil, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals clarified what is required to prove a “sum certain,” reversing a clerk’s default judgment against a gas station owner for unpaid deliveries of gasoline and the purchase of a truck. The Court held that the plaintiff failed to establish a “sum certain” for damages.

The Court gave guidance to others, saying that those seeking a default judgment from a clerk to recover on a contractual agreement should include (a) a description and documentation of the contract; (b) an itemization of the goods and services delivered, supported by bills, invoices, and records of performance; and (c) verification of all allegations. See Johnny’s Oil. Where the damages claim involves equitable principles, as with detrimental reliance, the default judgment cannot be issued by a clerk, and must come from a judge under the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2). Id.

Do not put off responding to a complaint. If you have questions about default judgments or how to respond to a complaint, call or contact Hutchins Law, P.C today.

The purpose of this article is to inform our clients of developments in the law and to provide information of general interest. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or to assume a client relationship. The content of this article could be considered advertising under the rules of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Copyright © 2012 Hutchins Law, P.C. All Rights Reserved.