|Jessica Medeiros Garrison and Alabama AG Luther Strange|
Garrison's arrogance, which was on full display in her as-told-to article at women's fashion magazine Marie Claire, might start dwindling now that we can show her $3.5-million "bonanza" is void. In other words it is a "nullity," worth zero. And those aren't my words; they come from Alabama law on the subject.
The crowing Ms. Garrison will never get enough from that judgment to buy a hot dog at Sneaky Pete's. In fact, the judgment might wind up costing her a lot more than she ever will receive.
How do we know? The answer probably can be found in a variety of Alabama cases, but the best one we've found is styled Abernathy v. Green Tree Servicing (Ala. Civ. App., 2010). In Abernathy, a Franklin County woman faced a default judgment from Green Tree, allegedly because a sheriff's deputy left court papers with the woman's mother. Abernathy wound up having no idea she was being sued. In a complicated series of events, Abernathy had to file two motions seeking relief from the default judgment; in the second instance, notice had been sent to her, but not to her attorney.
Abernathy lost in the trial court, but she took the matter to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. Here was the gist of her argument:
Abernathy contends, among other things, that Green Tree did not provide her with appropriate notice of its November 12, 2009, application for a default judgment and that, as a result, the trial court erred when it entered the November 13, 2009, default judgment. Specifically, she argues that Rule 55(b)(2), Ala. R. Civ. P., required that her attorney be given three days' written notice before the entry of the November 13, 2009, default judgment and that the failure to provide such notice constitutes reversible error. We agree.
How did failure to give proper notice affect Green Tree's claim.? You might say it was gutted. From the appellate court:
The failure to provide the notice of the application for a default judgment as required by Rule 55(b)(2) renders the default judgment "void, and not merely voidable," Bracknell v. S.E. Belcher, Inc., 517 So. 2d 588, 591 (Ala. 1987), and "requires a vacation of the default judgment," Southworth v. University of South Alabama Med. Ctr., 637 So. 2d 896, 898 (Ala. Civ. App. 1994).
Like Abernathy, I had appeared in my case; in fact, I appeared once in regular clothes (before I had been arrested because of the Rob Riley/Liberty Duke case) and at least twice in jail clothes during my five-month stay at the "Shelby County Hilton." That is what triggers the three-day notice requirement. In essence, the appellate court was saying there is no excuse for not giving notice of a default application when the defendant has appeared in the case.
The bottom line? I never received any notice of Garrison's default judgment application, or its hearing. The whole process took place without me knowing about it. Davy Hay, a Chilton County attorney who was "representing" me at the time, said the record showed it was not just a matter of me not receiving notice -- there was no indication notice was even sent.
(I put "representing" in quote marks because I was not pleased with the work Davy Hay supposedly did on my behalf. In fact, I'm not sure he did anything on my behalf. We parted ways, and I was left with the notion that I certainly would not recommend Mr. Hay's services to anyone. More on that in an upcoming post.)
Court documents show that my e-mail address was on every document I filed with the court. Garrison or her attorney, Bill Baxley, easily could have sent me an e-mail to determine my whereabouts. They never did that. I think they didn't do it because they didn't want me there; they wanted Garrison and Attorney General Luther Strange to blabber in court without pesky questions from the opposing side -- questions that might center on their professional, and personal, relationship.
Aside from that, Blankenship simply put the burden for notice on the wrong party. The law in Abernathy clearly shows the burden is on the plaintiff -- Garrison in this case. She did not fulfill her obligation, and that makes her $3.5-million default judgment void. In fact, her little piece of paper is worthless, as the Abernathy court makes clear:
Our supreme court has stated that, when the three-day notice provision of Rule 55(b)(2) is violated, a trial court is "without discretion in the matter" and errs to reversal if it refuses to set aside the default judgment. Bracknell, 517 So. 2d at 591. Moreover, our supreme court has written that the failure to provide the notice required by Rule 55(b)(2) "requires vacation of the default judgment regardless as to whether defendant has shown a meritorious defense or not." Cockrell v. World's Finest Chocolate Co., 349 So. 2d 1117, 1120 (Ala. 1977) (emphasis added).
Hay should have included the lack-of-notice argument in his written motion, but he did not. He did, however, argue it during the hearing -- as Blankenship makes clear in his order. That means the issue properly was before the court, And as Abernathy shows, Blankenship had no discretion in his ruling; vacation of the default judgment was required.
What about the time I have to get the default judgment voided? What about Blankenship's outrageous screwups in the case? We will address those issues, and more, in upcoming posts.
For now, we know that Jessica Garrison's $3.5-million default judgment was a "ridiculous little" piece of garbage all along.
(To be continued)