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TPR default judgment challenge rejected

State v. L.M., 2021AP970, District 1, 9/8/21 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

The circuit court properly exercised its discretion in denying L.M.’s motion to vacate the default judgment entered against her in this TPR case.

L.M. failed to appear at the initial appearance, though she’d served by mail and told about the court date over the phone by her case manager. Because she didn’t appear, the court entered a default judgment and set a dispositional hearing. L.M. did appear at that hearing and told the court she didn’t get the TPR petition. The court gave her time to get a lawyer and challenge the default judgment. Nonetheless, the court denied her subsequent motion to vacate the default judgment. (¶¶3-8).

The court of appeals affirms. Even though circuit court didn’t explicitly refer to the relevant factors for undoing a default judgment under § 806.07(1)(h) and State ex rel. M.L.B. v. D.G.H., 122 Wis. 2d 536, 363 N.W.2d 419 (1985), the record shows a reasonable basis for denying L.M.’s motions based on those factors. In particular, the circuit court found L.M. made a deliberate choice not to appear, L.M. has no evident meritorious defense to the petition, and there are intervening circumstances that would make it inequitable to grant relief from the default judgment—namely, that the circuit court has found it is in the child’s best interest to terminate L.M.’s parental rights. (¶¶14-20).

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