SiteOne Landscaping Supply, LLC v. Stewart, A22A0591

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
Writing for the CourtDillard, Presiding Judge.
Citation872 S.E.2d 915
Parties SITEONE LANDSCAPING SUPPLY, LLC v. STEWART.
Docket NumberA22A0591
Decision Date06 May 2022

872 S.E.2d 915

SITEONE LANDSCAPING SUPPLY, LLC
v.
STEWART.

A22A0591

Court of Appeals of Georgia.

May 6, 2022


872 S.E.2d 916

Michael Roger Boorman, Atlanta, Frank Faison Middleton IV, Albany, Philip Andrew Henderson, for Appellant.

Eric Jonathan David Rogers, Michael Louis Goldberg, Donald W. Singleton, Atlanta, Nathan Alexander Gaffney, for Appellee.

Dillard, Presiding Judge.

SiteOne Landscaping Supply, LLC appeals the trial court's denial of its motion to set aside a default judgment, which awarded damages to Larry Stewart in his negligence action against it. In doing so, SiteOne argues the trial court erred by (1) entering a default judgment against it based on its failure to file an answer to Stewart's amended complaint when it was not statutorily required or ordered to do so; (2) failing to consider whether Stewart's complaint asserted a viable claim against it; and (3) failing to give it notice of the default judgment. For the reasons set forth infra , we reverse.

In September 2018, Stewart filed a negligence complaint against several defendants arising from injuries he sustained in a car accident, in which he collided with a tractor trailer. Specifically, Stewart sued the driver of the tractor trailer, her employer, and her employer's insurance company. Discovery ensued, and at some point, the trial court granted a consent motion to add SiteOne as a defendant.1 In doing so, the court ordered Stewart to (1) file an amended complaint that identified his specific claims against SiteOne,

872 S.E.2d 917

and (2) serve that amended complaint on SiteOne. The order also advised SiteOne that it had 30 days from the date of service to file an answer to the amended complaint.

On February 6, 2019, Stewart filed an amended complaint, asserting a negligence claim against SiteOne, as well as an affidavit of service, indicating that he served SiteOne with the amended complaint on February 7, 2019, by leaving a copy with a registered agent for the company.2 The summons attached to the affidavit warned SiteOne that a failure to file an answer to the complaint within 30 days would result in a default judgment against it.

On March 27, 2019, Stewart filed a motion for default judgment against SiteOne, asserting that it failed to file an answer to the amended complaint and the time for seeking to open the default had expired. SiteOne did not respond to this motion, and following a hearing to determine the amount of damages, the trial court entered a default judgment against SiteOne for $800,000.3 Approximately two months later, SiteOne filed a motion to set aside or vacate the default judgment, arguing that (1) it was not required to answer the amended complaint; (2) the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over it; (3) the trial court failed to notify it of the damages hearing; (4) Stewart does not have a viable claim against it; and (5) the trial court failed to notify it of the default judgment. Ultimately, after considering arguments from both parties, the record, and the relevant law, the trial court denied SiteOne's motion to set aside the default judgment. This appeal follows.

We review a trial court's ruling on a motion to set aside a judgment under OCGA § 9-11-60 (d) for "abuse of discretion."4 But we review a question of law de novo , "during which we owe no deference to the trial court's ruling and apply the ‘plain legal error’ standard of review."5 With these guiding principles in mind, we turn to SiteOne's specific claims of error.

1. As an initial matter, we must address Stewart's motion to dismiss this appeal.6 Specifically, Stewart contends this Court lacks jurisdiction over SiteOne's appeal because the arguments in SiteOne's brief are foreclosed by binding precedent of this Court.7 But a contention that an appellant will—or is likely to—lose an appeal does not implicate our jurisdiction to consider and decide that appeal, and Stewart has cited no legal authority remotely suggesting otherwise. Indeed, we regularly rely upon established, binding precedent in deciding appeals adversely to a party. Simply put, the merits of SiteOne's appeal are irrelevant as to whether we have jurisdiction to entertain it. That said, Georgia's appellate courts are certainly at liberty to exercise their discretion and impose sanctions against an appellant who pursues a frivolous appeal.8

872 S.E.2d 918

Additionally, Stewart argues this Court lacks jurisdiction over SiteOne's appeal because an order denying a motion to set aside a judgment is not directly appealable, and SiteOne failed to follow our discretionary-appeal procedures. We agree that, as a general matter, appeals from the denial of a motion to set aside a judgment are discretionary. Indeed, OCGA § 5-6-35 lists the types of appeals that are subject to this Court's discretionary-appeal procedures, including "[a]ppeals from orders under subsection (d) of Code Section 9-11-60 denying a motion to set aside a judgment ...."9 Nevertheless, we have also held that "motions to set aside brought on the grounds that the court failed to notify the losing party of its decision are cognizable as motions to correct a clerical error pursuant to OCGA § 9-11-60 (g) and are properly the subject of a direct appeal."10 Here, it is undisputed that—in its motion to set aside the default judgment—SiteOne expressly argued, inter alia , the judgment should be set aside because the trial court violated OCGA § 15-6-21 (c) by failing to notify it that the default judgment had been entered. Indeed, in his motion to dismiss, Stewart acknowledges that SiteOne presented a lack-of-notice argument below. But once again, he contends we are deprived of jurisdiction simply because, in his view, SiteOne's appeal lacks merit. We have already considered and rejected this argument. Moreover, SiteOne's appeal is not frivolous

872 S.E.2d 919

because, as explained infra , it prevails in this appeal. For all these reasons, we deny Stewart's motion to dismiss this appeal.

2. Turning to SiteOne's substantive arguments, it first contends the trial court erred by entering a default judgment against it based on its failure to file an answer to the amended complaint because it was not required to do so by statute or court order. We agree.

Our analysis begins with the plain language of OCGA § 9-11-15 (a), which provides, in relevant part, 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."11 In this regard, our Supreme Court has explained that " OCGA § 9-11-15 (a) allows a response to an amended pleading but does not require such a response[,] [and] ... [t]he effect of [a] failure to respond, ... [when] no response [is] required, [is] a denial or avoidance of the allegations in the amended pleadings ...."12 And this rule still applies even when, as here, the amended pleading adds a new party defendant.13 Nevertheless, OCGA § 9-11-15 (a) also expressly provides an exception to this general rule when "required by an order of the court. "14

Here, in its order granting Stewart's motion to add SiteOne as a party defendant, the trial court ordered Stewart to file an amended complaint identifying his claims against SiteOne and then to serve it on SiteOne. The order went on to provide, "SiteOne will then have 30 days from the date of service to answer the amended complaint"15 Thus, unlike the court's mandate that Stewart file an amended complaint, the trial court did not order SiteOne to do anything. Instead, the trial court merely provided the length of time SiteOne had to answer the amended complaint if it chose to do so. In sum, without any order from the trial...

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2 cases
  • Wells Fargo Bank v. Am. Builders & Contractors Supply Co., A22A0793
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • October 11, 2022
    ...only when affirmatively ordered by the trial court, see SiteOne Landscaping Supply, LLC v. Stewart, 363 Ga.App. 855, 859 n.13 (2) (872 S.E.2d 915) (2022) (collecting cases), and the effect of a failure to respond when no response is required is a denial or avoidance of the allegations in th......
  • Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Am. Builders & Contractors Supply Co., A22A0793
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • October 11, 2022
    ...only when affirmatively ordered by the trial court, see SiteOne Landscaping Supply, LLC v. Stewart , 363 Ga. App. 855, 859 (2) n.13, 872 S.E.2d 915 (2022) (collecting cases), and the effect of a failure to respond when no response is required is a denial or avoidance of the allegations in t......

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