Justices set aside default against Greensburg landlords

A Greensburg apartment complex and its property manager will no longer be considered in default after the Indiana Supreme Court reinstated a trial court ruling that found excusable neglect justified setting aside a default judgment.

After Matthew Joseph accidentally discharged a firearm in his unit at the Tree City Village Apartment complex and significantly injured his neighbor, Genia Wamsley, Wamsley’s counsel informed the property management company, New Generation Management, Inc., that she intended to sue and asked the property manager to place its insurer on notice. The attorney then began communicating with an insurance specialist, who denied the claim.

Wamsley then sued Joseph, the apartment complex and New Generation, which acknowledged the lawsuit by pointing out a factual error to Wamsley’s counsel. The president of the management company then placed the suit in storage and took no further action, leading to the initial entry of default judgment against the complex and property manager.

The Decatur Superior Court later set aside the default judgment on the grounds of excusable error, but the Court of Appeals reversed and reinstated the default. Judge Paul Mathias wrote in February that the property management president’s explanation – that she thought she had done all she needed to do when she informed Wamsley’s counsel of the factual error in the suit – was unpersuasive.

The Supreme Court, however, disagreed, granting transfer and once again setting aside the default on Thursday in Cember Wamsley, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Genia Wamsley v. Tree City Village, New Generation Management, Inc., and Matthew Joseph, 18S-CT-502.

“Our deferential standard of review compels us to affirm the trial court,” the justices wrote in a three-page per curiam opinion. “There exists evidence of excusable neglect in this case — although that evidence is indeed exceedingly slight — and Landlords have made the requisite showing under Trial Rule 60(B)(1) or a meritorious defense.”

The case was remanded for further proceedings.

This article was first published by The Indiana Lawyer.

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