Constitutional Law

Joshua C. Devine, Esquire

Defective service did not automatically render void a default judgment entered in the amount of $745,000 in a trucking accident case. Christianson v. Goucher, et al., No. 75791 (Mo. App. W.D., October 1, 2013), Howard, P.J.

Plaintiff waited for more than a year to enforce a default judgment obtained against defendant Goucher in the amount of $745,000 following a trucking accident. When Goucher learned of the judgment, he moved to quash service and/or to set it aside under Rule 74.06. Even though he admitted being served with process, Goucher claimed the court did not have personal jurisdiction over him in that the return of service was defective. Goucher also claimed that, given the defects in service, his due process rights were violated because he did not receive notice of the amount of damages claimed. Goucher further claimed that his due process rights were violated because he did not receive notice of the default judgment until a year after it was entered, and therefore did not have an opportunity to move to set it aside under the less stringent standard set forth in Rule 74.05. Finally, Goucher claimed that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the case because plaintiff’s petition failed to state a claim.

Held: Affirmed.
Under Rule 74.06, a court may relieve a party of a final judgment if it is void. A judgment is void where the trial court that entered it lacked personal or subject matter jurisdiction, or entered it in a manner that violated due process. Here, the trial court did not lack person jurisdiction. Goucher was served, but failed to appear. The return of service was merely evidence that he was served, and the defect with respect to the same did not automatically strip the trial court of jurisdiction over Goucher. Further, the trial court did not lack subject matter jurisdiction and did not violate Goucher’s due process rights. The concept of subject matter jurisdiction is not implicated merely because a petition fails to state a claim. Moreover, pursuant to Rule 74.03, a party in default does not have a right to receive notice of entry of a judgment. Thus, plaintiff was permitted to lay in wait and allow the one year time frame to set aside default judgments under Rule 74.05 to pass before taking steps to enforce the judgment.