What Is The Difference Between A Void And Voidable Judgment In Civil Litigation?
There are two related but often misunderstood concepts in Florida civil litigation: void and voidable judgments. A void judgment refers to a civil judgment that is inherently defective. Once a judgment is found void, it is as if it never existed at all.
A voidable judgment, in contrast, is one that is somehow procedurally defective but not void. A voidable judgment continues to have legal force unless and until a judge decides to vacate it. In other words, a voidable judgment is not automatically invalidated.
Second District Refuses to Undo Seven-Year-Old Default Judgment
Here is a practical illustration of the difference between void and voidable judgments. This is taken from a recent decision from the Florida Second District Court of Appeal, KB Home Fort Myers LLC v. Taishan Gypsum Co. This particular case involved the procedures regarding a default judgment–i.e., a lawsuit where the defendant failed to respond.
The plaintiff in this case actually filed this lawsuit more than 10 years ago. The original case involved the sale of defective Chinese drywall in the United States. The plaintiff was a builder that purchased the defective drywall from the defendant. The plaintiff’s lawsuit sought to recover damages related to its costs in repairing the damaged drywall.
The plaintiff formally served its lawsuit on the defendant. But the defendant never filed any response in court. When this happens, the plaintiff can ask the court clerk to enter a default, which is precisely what happened here.
The plaintiff then asked the court for a final judgment based on that default. Again, the plaintiff served these papers on the defendant. Again, the defendant failed to respond at all. Eventually, a magistrate judge recommended the court enter a default judgment against the defendant for $18 million. The trial court formally adopted that recommendation in 2013.
Seven years passed. The defendant finally decided to file a response–specifically a motion to vacate the default judgment. The defendant argued the judgment was “void” because the plaintiff never notified the defense’s attorneys about the case.
Although the trial court agreed to void the judgment on those grounds, the Second District reversed. It held the judgment was voidable, not void. A void judgment requires a violation of a defendant’s fundamental due process rights. Had the plaintiff failed to notify and serve the defendant with the lawsuit, that would have rendered the judgment void. Failing to communicate with the defendant’s attorney, in contrast, was at worst a procedural matter that rendered the judgment voidable.
More to the point, the Second District noted, the defendant waited seven years to challenge the default judgment.
Speak with a Florida Business Litigation Lawyer Today
There are a couple of common-sense lessons here. First, if somebody sues you, it is important to file some sort of response in order to protect your legal rights. Second, if you plan to challenge a default judgment, do not wait seven years to act. And if you do need legal advice or representation from a qualified Bradenton civil litigation attorney, contact Suncoast Civil Law today to schedule a consultation.