VACATING A JUDGMENT IN MARYLAND'S DISTRICT COURTS:
You just found a judgment has been entered against you. This happened in one of three ways: 1) affidavit judgment was entered because you failed to respond to the summons or failed to appear for trial; 2) default judgment was entered against you because you failed to appear at trial; or 3) you lost at trial.
Once judgment is entered against you, you will receive notice from the Court. You may also check the status on Maryland's Judiciary Case Search website. The notice will contain the date of the judgment, and how much you owe. In Maryland, judgments accrue 10% annual interest. The date of the judgment will determine how successful you will be at convincing a court to vacate it. Judgments last for 12 years and can be renewed by the judgment creditor.
Affidavit/Default Judgments: These are the two types of judgments that can be vacated. You will file a "Motion to Vacate" in the District Court where the judgment was entered and state the grounds on which it should be vacated. If you are within the first 30 days you are in luck because a Court will vacate the judgment for almost any reason. If you are past 30 days you are out of luck because you have to prove one of three things: 1) fraud; 2) mistake; or 3) irregularity. Anything not in these three categories and you stand almost no chance of having the judgment vacated. Always be sure to request a hearing within your written motion to the court.
The most common ground on which to have the judgment vacated at any time is based on not ever receiving service. After you have been served or someone in your household has been served, the process server returns an affidavit of service to the court. This affidavit is required to have a description of the person served, time, and date of service, and a description of the process server himself (name, address, phone) and an affidavit that he can legally serve you. If you were served by certified mail, restricted delivery, as required by Maryland Rule 3-121, the green certified mail receipt will be returned to the court.
This affidavit of return of service is very important. The Courts give great deference to this document. If the description of you is on that document, your chance of proving no service goes down greatly. If service was made to a roommate, your chances improve, albeit slightly.
Trial Judgments: You can file to vacate the judgment and for a new trial within 10 days of the judgment. You can also file for an appeal which is most common. If you appeal from a small claim, $0.01 to $5,000 you will receive a de novo appeal. This means you will get a brand new trial in front of the Circuit Court. If you appeal from a large claim, $5,000.01 to $30,0000 you will receive an on the record appeal. Meaning the Circuit Court will look to the actions the District Court took during your original trial to see if any mistakes were made.
If a judgment has been entered against you, you should act immediately. Waiting can only hurt your chances of success. Contact a lawyer today to determine your options. Bennett Wills is licensed in Maryland and Tennessee.