Defendants Obtain Reversal of Default Judgment
This case began when Met-Test, LLC, filed suit in magistrate court to collect unpaid bills from Sondi Moore-Waters, a physician,. The magistrate court dismissed the suit, and Med-Test appealed to Fulton County Superior Court. Med-Test moved to amend its complaint to add two defendants: Alphonso Waters, Moore-Waters’ husband and practice manager, plus Family Practice of Atlanta Medical Group, LLC.
The motion to amend the complaint was granted, and Plaintiff filed suit against all three Defendants on October 24, 2014. Defendants failed to answer, and on December 30, 2014, Plaintiff moved for a default judgment. The trial court granted this motion and awarded Plaintiff $14,900.00 in damages, attorney fees of $4,316.50, plus post-judgment interest. Defendants appealed.
In Moore-Waters v. Met-Test, LLC, (No. A15A1769, Ga. App., February 23, 2016), the Georgia Court of Appeals began by quoting a portion of Georgia Code §9-11-15(a). The court stated that “[a] party may plead or move in response to an amended pleading and, when required by an order of the court, shall plead within 15 days after service of the amended pleading, unless the court otherwise orders.” (emphasis by the court) The Court of Appeals noted that, on its face, this statute required an answer to an amended pleading only when ordered by the trial court.
Plaintiff Met-Test conceded that no answer was required from the original Defendant, Moore-Waters. But as to the other two Defendants, the amended complaint was the original complaint, and Plaintiff argued that an answer was required.
Relying on its own earlier precedent, the Court of Appeals stated that no answer was required from any of the Defendants unless the trial court so ordered. The court also quoted Georgia Code §9-11-8(d), providing that “[a]verments in a pleading to which no responsive pleading is required or permitted shall be taken as denied or avoided.”
Finally, the Georgia Court of Appeals stated, “While we never condone dilatory conduct by a defendant, it remains true that if the interest of justice demands that answer be given, a party’s remedy is to make timely request of the trial judge to affirmatively order an answer to the amended complaint.”
Finding that Appellants were not required to file an answer to the amended complaint, the Court of Appeals ruled they were not in default and that the default judgment entered by the trial court was therefore void.