How to Get the Court to Undo a Default Judgment for Fraud on the Court.
If you were served with the lawsuit, there is still one other way to get a default judgment vacated: fraud on the Court. This is not very common, and it is not easy, either. But just what does it mean to say that a default judgment creditor has committed fraud on the court?
Basically, they lied to the Court in order to get the judgment entered.
Consider the case of Hartigan v. Hartigan, 182 So.2d 725 (Ala. 1961). A New York resident filed a lawsuit alleging she lived in Alabama and was an Alabama citizen. She did this to get the Alabama Court to take jurisdiction over her divorce. Why? A little history here: back then, Alabama allowed for quicker divorces in most states, so there was a cottage industry here of divorce lawyers who specialized in filing quickie divorces for rich people from out of town. They’d fly in, sign the papers, do a quick deposition, and their lawyers would do the rest. They’d have a divorce days or a few weeks later.
Anyway, they tried to modify their divorce 6 years later, and the court realized they were not from Alabama, and so they vacated the judgment for the lies they submitted in their divorce affidavits. The decision was upheld by the Alabama Supreme Court, and the original divorce judgment was vacated.
The same logic applies to default judgments. If a default affidavit was filed with the court and contained false information, then that is fraud on the Court and can be grounds to reverse the judgment.
Fraud on the court can come in many forms. They may have lied about the amount of the debt, or clearly miscalculated it. They may have lied about the date of the contract or last payment, so as to avoid the statute of limitations. (Note that unlike ordinary contract cases, most suits involving a repossession deficiency are subject to a 4 year statute of limitations.) They may just have the wrong guy. Whatever false statement you are complaining about has to be something important. It can’t just be a minor error like your age. But if there are demonstrably false statements in their default motion or affidavit, and these statements are material to the case – meaning that the judgment either wouldn’t have been entered at all or would have been a substantially different amount – then you can ask the court to vacate the judgment.
Judges have a lot of discretion on whether or not to uphold default judgments, so your lawyer will have to prepare the case and do some convincing. But most judges are concerned about avoiding clearly unfair results, and will at least give you a chance.
The key to overturning a default judgment for fraud is carefully reviewing the default motion and all the records in the case. Your lawyer will need to look for errors that could have provided some defense either to liability or the amount of the debt.