judgment by default

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Judgement by default, also known as default judgment, is a judgment entered upon the failure of a defendant to appear before a court or answer a complaint. A default is a failure to perform a duty in legal proceedings. A default judgment is binding, and the defaulting defendant may not litigate his case or present any evidence. A civil action default judgment will grant the amount of relief sought in a plaintiff’s complaint. In the United States, the law governing default judgment can vary in different jurisdictions.

In federal courts, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 55 and 60 are the basis for default judgment procedures. Entering a default judgment under Rule 55 is based on the assumption that facts in a plaintiff’s well-pleaded complaint are true. However, before a default judgment is entered, a plaintiff has to provide affidavit showing that the defendant has been personally served and that the time for responding to the complaint has passed. A default judgment can be entered by a clerk or by a judge. In simple civil cases and where the defendant is neither a minor nor an incompetent person, the clerk, with an affidavit showing the amount due, can enter the judgment for that amount. In other cases, to enter a default, the court may conduct hearings or make referrals. Members of military services may enjoy a protection from default judgment subject to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

Rule 60(b) gives a defaulting party the right to move to set aside a default judgment. The moving party has to show grounds why he defaulted. The court considering a 60(b) motion usually balances between the preference for deciding cases on the merits and concerns for preserving the efficiency and finality of litigations.

In New York State, the plaintiff is required to file a default judgment motion within one year after the default. The New York Civil Practice Law & Rules 3215 governs default judgment.

[Last updated in July of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]