It is well known that civility and fairness are fundamental and ingrained in the culture of the practice of law in Delaware and that priority is placed on resolving matters on the merits. Situations do arise, however, that serve as a reminder that a failure to follow the rules can have adverse consequences. Specifically, in a recent decision, Christiana Mall v. Emory Hill and Co., No. N12L-10-021 (Del. S.Ct. Apr. 15, 2014), the Delaware Supreme Court reminded litigants that relief from default judgments available under Rule 60(b)(1) is limited.
Under Superior Court Civil Rule 60(b)(1), a party may seek relief from a final judgment, order or other proceeding for reasons such as mistake, surprise, excusable neglect or any other reason that justifies relief. In order for the Superior Court to grant relief from a default judgment because of excusable neglect, the party must show: (1) excusable neglect in the conduct that allowed the default judgment to be taken; (2) a meritorious defense to the action that would allow a different outcome to the litigation if the matter was heard on its merits; and (3) that substantial prejudice will not be suffered by the plaintiff if the relief is granted. The opinion defines excusable negligence as “neglect which might have been the act of a reasonable prudent person under the circumstances.”
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