A plaintiff may obtain a judgment against a defendant under Tennessee law, and under federal law, if the defendant does not file a responsive pleading within the required time. Under the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, a defendant must file a written response to a complaint within thirty (30) days of being served with the complaint. If you are a defendant against whom a default judgment has been entered, be aware that it can be set aside. With frequency, default judgments are set aside by Tennessee courts.
There are several different grounds on which a default judgment may be set aside. First, if a defendant was not properly served, then a default judgment may be set aside on the grounds that it is void. Service of process on a defendant can be tricky, and, even the validity of personal service by an officer or private process server may be successfully challenged.
Second, a default judgment may be set aside, even where there was valid service on the defendant, if the defendant was not given adequate written notice that the plaintiff had filed a motion for a default judgment. Under the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, in most cases, a defendant is entitled to receive written notice of the motion for default judgment at least five (5) days before the motion is heard.
Third, a default judgment may be set aside for “mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.” In my experience, these grounds are the ones most frequently used to support a motion to set aside a default judgment. Under Tennessee law, the party moving to set aside a default judgment has the burden to prove that it should be set aside. However, Tennessee appellate courts have said, time and time again, that the law does not favor judgments by default, and, if there is any doubt as to whether one should be set aside, it should be.