Successive Ala. R. Civ. P. 60(b) Motions Not Permitted

Ex parte Caterpillar Financial Services Corp., [Ms. 1200332, June 30, 2021], ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. 2021). The Court (Sellers, J.; Parker, C.J., and Bolin, Shaw, Wise, Mendheim, Stewart, and Mitchell, JJ., concur; Bryan, J., concurs in the result) grants a petition for a writ of mandamus filed by Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation (“CFS”) and directs the Shelby Circuit Court to vacate its order purporting to grant a motion to set aside a default judgment in favor of CFS in its action against Horton Logging, LLC and Gary Horton.

When, after service, Horton Logging and Mr. Horton did not answer CFS’s complaint, the circuit court entered a default judgment. Horton Logging and Horton then moved the trial court pursuant to Ala. R. Civ. P. 55(c) and 60(b) to set aside the default judgment. The circuit court subsequently conducted a hearing and during the course of that hearing, rescheduled the matter for another hearing at a later date. On the date of the rescheduled hearing, Horton Logging and Horton failed to appear, so the court denied their motion for relief from the default judgment. Ms. **2-3.

Horton Logging and Horton did not appeal from the circuit court’s order denying their motion for relief from the default judgment; instead, they filed another motion pursuant to Rule 60(b) asking the circuit court to reconsider and set aside its order and to reset the motion for relief for another hearing. Following a hearing, the circuit court entered an order purporting to grant Horton Logging’s and Horton’s second Rule 60(b) motion without specifying its reasoning. Ms. *4. CFS then timely filed its petition for a writ of mandamus contending that the second Rule 60(b) motion was a successive post-judgment motion that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to grant. Id.

The Supreme Court agreed. A Rule 55(c) motion is subject to Ala. R. Civ. P. 59.1, which provides that certain post-judgment motions are deemed denied by operation of law if they remain pending more than ninety days. Ms. **5-6. More than ninety days elapsed without any ruling on Horton Logging’s and Horton’s initial motion for relief from default judgment. Accordingly, to the extent that motion relied upon Rule 55(c), it was denied by operation of law. Ms. *6.

Since the Shelby Circuit Court erred in granting Horton Loggings’s and Horton’s second Rule 60(b) motion, CFS’s petition for writ of mandamus was due to be granted and the circuit court was directed to vacate its order setting aside the default judgment.

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