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TPR – Default Judgment, Grounds

State v. Yvette A., 2012AP548, District 1, 8/14/12

court of appeals decision (1-judge, not for publication); case activity

Parent’s failure to appear at grounds phase of TPR trial, because she was locked in a mental health unit, supported default judgment, where parent had documented history of checking herself into hospitals despite actual need for psychiatric treatment.

¶13      Because entry of default is a particularly harsh sanction, the supreme court has limited use of the sanction to those acts that are “egregious[ ] or in bad faith.”  Id., ¶43.  An act is egregious if it is “‘extraordinary in some bad way; glaring, flagrant.’”  Sentry Ins. v. Davis, 2001 WI App 203, ¶21 n.8, 247 Wis. 2d 501, 634 N.W.2d 553 (citation omitted).  A party’s “failure to comply with circuit court scheduling and discovery orders without clear and justifiable excuse is egregious conduct.”  Garfoot v. Fireman’s Fund Ins. Co., 228 Wis. 2d 707, 719, 599 N.W.2d 411 (Ct. App. 1999).

¶14      Here, the trial court set forth multiple reasons explaining why it found that Yvette’s failure to appear warranted a default judgment. Specifically, the trial court found that:  (1) Yvette was put on notice multiple times as to her required presence at the proceedings; and (2) Yvette’s failure to appear at the fact-finding trial was an intentional attempt to delay the proceedings.  We conclude that the trial court’s findings that Yvette’s failure to appear was egregious, in bad faith, and not justifiably excusable, are supported by the record.

¶18      Taking into account all of the information before it, the trial court determined that Yvette exhibited a pattern of behavior that involved checking herself into psychiatric hospitals when she felt the need to delay court proceedings.  The trial court, therefore, reasonably concluded that Yvette’s failure to appear at the fact-finding hearing was egregious, in bad faith, and without a justifiable excuse.  The trial court correctly determined that, based on Yvette’s pattern of behavior, reopening the default judgment would be judicially inefficient because of the risk that she would again not appear for depositions and proceedings.[4]

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