Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Grit In My Grits: A Tuesday Complaint About Kentucky Practice

In Kentucky civil procedure there is a general distinction between a default judgment on a claim for liquidated damages and on a claim for indefinite damages.

Kentucky Rules of Civil Procedure, CR 8.04 - Effect of Failure to Deny - provides, in part:

" . . . . Averments in a pleading to which a responsive pleading is required are admitted when not denied  . . . except that the following allegations must be proved:
(a) . . .
(b) . . .
(c) Those concerning value or amount of damages which are not for a sum certain or for a sum which may by computation be made certain." [emphasis added]
K. R. C. P., CR 8.01 - Claims For Relief
"(1) A pleading which sets forth a claim for relief . . . shall contain . . . a demand for judgment for the relief to which he deems himself entitled. . .
(2) In any action for unliquidated damages the prayer for damages in any pleading shall not recite any sum as alleged damages . . . . " [emphasis added]
With a complaint on a credit card debt, for example, simple logic would indicate the amount of damages claimed by the plaintiff is for, "a sum certain or for a sum which may by computation be made certain." which must be specified in the complaint. Yes?

When a defendant is in default for failure to appear and defend in such an action, the allegations in the plaintiff's complaint are not denied and the dollar amount claimed in the complaint is deemed admitted by CR 8.04.

Thus, in an action on a consumer loan transaction, it seems obvious no hearing to determine the amount of damages is required. It's just a simple "computation". But, was life and consumer lending ever really all that simple?

CR 55.01 - Judgment
". . . . If, in order to enable the court to enter [default] judgment or to carry it into effect, it is necessary to take an account or to determine the amount of damages or to establish the truth of any averment by evidence or to make an investigation of any other matter, the court, without a jury, shall conduct such hearings or order such references as it deems necessary and proper . . . . " [emphasis added]
With the assignment of consumer loans to junk debt collectors, possibly unwarranted claims for exorbitant prejudgment interest rates and a wide variety of added-on fees and charges, simple computations may turn out to be mind boggling complex.   Clearly a trial judge would be authorized by CR 55.01 to conduct a hearing to establish damages in a consumer loan debt collection action in default for defendant's failure to appear and defend, should he or she feel the urge. However, it is likely unreasonable to require it.

The simplest solution to this problem is probably the best solution. For a consumer debtor being sued who takes the position, "Yep, I owe them something, but not as much as they are asking," the thing to do is to appear and defend the action, and to not allow a default judgment to be entered.

OK. Now I feel better. Thanks for listening.