RE-OPENING LAWSUITS FOLLOWING A DEFAULT JUDGMENT
If you already have a default judgment against you, you may, depending on your circumstances, be able to re-open the lawsuit or appeal the judgment.
What you can do will depend on how long it has been since the judgment was entered and on whether or not you were served with the lawsuit papers before the judgment was entered.
Motion For New Trial/Motion to Set Aside Default
Motion for New Trial: A Motion for New Trial (which might also be called a “Motion to Set Aside Default”) is a request that the judge re-open the lawsuit to allow you to fight or settle the case.
Deadline in Justice Court Cases: In Justice Court, you have 14 days from the date of the judgment to file your Motion for New Trial or Motion to Set Aside Default. And you have only 21 days from the date of the judgment to get a ruling on the motion (to “get the order signed by the Judge”).
Deadline in County and District Court Cases: In County and District Court, you have 30 days from the date of the judgment to file your Motion for New Trial or Motion to Set Aside Default. And you have 45 days from the date you file your motion to get a ruling on the motion (to “get the order signed by the Judge”).
What Happens if You Miss the Deadline: If you miss your deadline, even by a day, the judgment becomes final and you lose the right to reopen the lawsuit. This is true whether you miss the FILING deadline (the deadline to file your motion) or the RULING deadline (the deadline to get a ruling on your motion).
You May Still Be Able to Appeal: If your deadline is passed, you may, depending on your circumstances, still be able to appeal your judgment and/or file a “Bill of Review.”
Types of Appeals in Debt Cases
Appeals: There are 2 types of appeals available in debt lawsuit cases: (1) Ordinary Appeals and (2) Restricted Appeals. The differences between an Ordinary Appeal and a Restricted Appeal are the deadlines for filing them and the reasons or grounds for which the appeals can be filed and considered.
Bill of Review: A Bill of Review is not technically an appeal, but rather a new lawsuit filed by you, against the plaintiff, where you ask the court to re-examine the lawsuit that resulted in the judgment against you.
Difference Between an Appeal and a Bill of Review: An appeal is done as part o the same lawsuit. In an appeal, you are asking a higher court to review a ruling made by a lower court. A bill of review is a new lawsuit. If you win on a bill of review, the judgment against you is set aside and the lawsuit is re-opened.
Deadlines for Filing Appeals and Bill of Review
Justice Court Cases: In Justice Court, you have 21 days from the date of the Judgment to file your Appeal. If you filed a Motion for New Trial or Motion to Set Aside Default, you have 21 days from the date the motion was denied or overruled by operation of law to file your appeal.
Ordinary Appeal – County and District Court Cases: You have 30 days from the date of the judgment to file an ordinary appeal. If you filed a Motion for New Trial, you have 30 days from the date the motion was denied or overruled by operation of law to file your appeal.
Restricted Appeal – County and District Court Cases: You have 6 months from the date of the judgment to file a restricted appeal. The grounds for a restricted appeal are narrower than the grounds for an ordinary appeal. There has to be an identifiable mistake in the court paperwork. For example, if the lawsuit said the debt was $3,000 and the judgment said the debt was $5,000, you might have grounds for a restricted appeal.
Bill of Review: You have up to 4 years to file a bill of review. A bill of review is not technically an “appeal.” It is a new lawsuit filed in the same court where the judgment was entered wherein you ask the judge to set aside the judgment.
What You Can Do if Your Judgment is Final
Settle for a Reduced Amount: Even if you have a final judgment against you that cannot be appealed, the plaintiff will probably still settle for a reduced amount and set up a payment plan. We have settled hundreds of judgments and can help you with yours.
Clear the Judgment From Your Homestead Without Paying It: A judgment can become a cloud on the title to your home. We can get the judgment lifted from your homestead so that you have clear title. You don’t have to pay (or settle) the judgment in order to get your title cleared.
Protect Your Bank Accounts From the Judgment: A judgment creditor can (subject to certain limitations) garnish any bank account that has your name on it. If you have joint account with someone, take your name off the account if possible. Also, keep as little money in your account as possible until the judgment is resolved.
What They Can Do With a Judgment: The next article—“What A Creditor Can Do With a Judgment”—will explain the different ways a judgment creditor can collect on their judgment and what you can do to protect yourself until you are in a position to settle the judgment.