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Langley v. Farrar

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

June 28, 2019

Charles D. Langley
v.
Harlon B. Farrar

          Appeal from Marion Circuit Court (CV-16-900014)

          PER CURIAM.

         Charles D. Langley appeals from a judgment of the Marion Circuit Court ("the trial court") denying his Rule 60(b)(4) and (6), Ala. R. Civ. P., motion, which sought relief from a judgment the trial court had entered in favor of Harlon B. Farrar and against Langley in the amount of $31, 914.80. We reverse and remand.

         In February 2016, Farrar filed a complaint against Langley along with written discovery requests in the trial court. Farrar's complaint sought to recover $31, 914.80, which, Farrar alleged, Langley owed Farrar pursuant to a promissory note. The summons prepared by Farrar for service of the complaint and discovery requests on Langley listed an address for Langley in Winfield. It is undisputed from the record that both the street address and the city listed on the summons were incorrect; Langley's correct address was in Guin. The sheriff's return of service shows that the summons and complaint, along with the discovery requests, were served on "Charles D. Langley in Marion County, Alabama on 2-9-16." The sheriff's return of service does not indicate the specific address where Langley was served.

         On February 25, 2016, representing himself and without counsel, Langley filed an answer to Farrar's complaint that listed his correct address in Guin. In the answer, Langley denied the claim stated in Farrar's complaint. On March 2, 2016, Langley filed responses to the discovery requests that had been served with the summons and complaint. In his responses, Langley denied that he owed Farrar any money.

         The record shows that on March 11, 2016, the trial-court clerk's office mailed notices of a pretrial conference to be held on May 11, 2016, to Farrar's counsel and Langley. The notice intended for Langley was mailed to him in an envelope addressed to the incorrect Winfield address that had been listed on the summons. On March 23, 2016, the envelope containing Langley's notice of the pretrial conference was returned to the trial-court clerk's office marked "Return to Sender, No Such Street, Unable to Forward."

         An entry on the State Judicial Information System case-action summary dated May 11, 2016, the day of the pretrial conference, indicates that, on that date, the trial court set the action for trial on August 19, 2016. There is no indication in the record that the trial-court clerk's office sent written notice of the trial date to either Farrar's counsel or Langley.

         On August 18, 2016, the day before the scheduled trial, counsel for Farrar filed a motion to compel Langley to respond further to the discovery requests that had been served with the complaint. The certificate of service on the motion to compel indicates that Farrar's counsel mailed a service copy of the motion to compel to Langley's correct address in Guin. The motion to compel contained no indication that the action had been set for trial.

         On August 19, 2016, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of Farrar and against Langley in the amount of $31, 914.80, the amount sought in Farrar's complaint. The judgment stated that Langley had not appeared for the trial, that Farrar and his counsel had appeared for the trial, and that the trial court had based its judgment on testimony it had received from Farrar and exhibits introduced by Farrar. The record does not contain a transcript of the trial, but nothing in the record indicates that the trial court was informed that the address the trial-court clerk had used for the purpose of sending Langley notices was incorrect and that it was not the same address that was listed on both Langley's answer and Farrar's motion to compel, which Farrar's counsel had mailed to Langley the day before the trial.

         The trial-court clerk's office subsequently mailed a notice of the judgment to Langley, once again addressing it to the incorrect Winfield address. The envelope containing the notice was, once again, returned to the trial-court clerk's office marked "Return to Sender, No Such Street, Unable to Forward."

         In May 2017, the trial-court clerk's office issued a certificate of judgment. In July 2017, the trial-court clerk's office issued a writ of execution at Farrar's request. Both the writ of execution and the notice of right to claim exemption from execution that accompanied it listed Langley's address as the incorrect Winfield address.

         On August 30, 2018, Langley filed a motion in the trial court pursuant to Rule 60(b)(4) and (6) seeking relief from the judgment. Langley's motion asserted that he had not appeared at the trial because he had not been given notice that the action was set for trial on August 19, 2016; that he had not received notice of the trial because Farrar had provided incorrect and misleading information regarding his address to the trial court; and that he had a meritorious defense to Farrar's claim. In support of his motion, Langley filed an affidavit in which he testified, in pertinent part:

"2. I am the defendant in the above-styled lawsuit. Although I do not recall how the complaint was served, at some point I became aware that Harlon B. Farrar had filed a lawsuit claiming that I owed him money. The address on the summons was '103 Langley Road, Winfield, Alabama 35594.' This is not my address. The service address as set out on page 2 of the Complaint is '103 Langley Road, Guin, Alabama 35563.' This is not my address.
"3. According to the summons, I had 30 days within which to file my answer to the complaint. On February 25, 2016, I filed my answer to the complaint denying that I owed [Farrar] any money, I included on my answer my correct address of:
"Charles D. Langley 301 Langley Road Guin, Alabama 36563
"4. I responded in a timely manner to the discovery served with the complaint, in which responses I denied that I owed [Farrar] any money.
"5. After the filing of my answer, I received no notice of the scheduling of any trial, hearing or other judicial proceeding. I became aware that a judgment had been rendered against me only upon being served on or about August 8, 2018 with a writ of execution. Had I received notice of trial or hearing I would have been present because I do not owe Harlon B. Farrar any money.
"6. I acknowledged that on October 1, 2004, I borrowed $10, 016.50 from Harlon B. Farrar. That indebtedness was paid in full on August 14, 2006 as so noted on the promissory note, a copy of which is attached hereto as 'Exhibit A.' I further acknowledged that on February 15, 2005, I borrowed $8, 520.00 from Harlon B. Farrar. That indebtedness was paid in full on August 14, 2006 as so noted on the promissory note, a copy of ...

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