What is a Motion to Vacate Default?

The court has broad discretion to vacate the entry of default, default judgment, or dismissal, but that discretion can be exercised only if the defendant establishes a proper ground for relief, by the proper procedure and within the set time limits. (Code of Civ. Proc., § 473(b).)

Legal Standard

“The court may, upon any terms as may be just, relieve a party or his or her legal representative from a judgment, dismissal, order, or other proceeding taken against him or her through his or her mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.” (Code of Civ. Proc., § 473(b).) This section “is often applied liberally where the party in default moves promptly to seek relief, and the party opposing the motion will not suffer prejudice if relief is granted.” (Elston v. City of Turlock (1985) 38 Cal.3d 227, 233.)

“The rules pertaining to defaults and default judgments must be precisely followed to ensure that a defaulting defendant is aware of plaintiff’s claims.” (Grappo v. McMills (2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 996, 1012.)

A default or default judgment is void if a defendant was not served with a summons in the manner prescribed by statute. (Sakaguchi v. Sakaguchi (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 852, 858; Ellard v. Conway (2001) 94 Cal.App.4th 540, 544.) “A judgment may be void on the face of the record or void for lack of proper service.” (Yeung v. Soos (2004) 119 Cal.App.4th 576, 582.)

Procedure

“Application for this relief shall be accompanied by a copy of the answer or other pleading proposed to be filed therein, otherwise the application shall not be granted, and shall be made within a reasonable time, in no case exceeding six months, after the judgment, dismissal, order, or proceeding was taken.” (Code of Civ. Proc., § 473(b).)

“This six-month time limitation is jurisdictional; the court has no power to grant relief under section 473 once the time has lapsed.” (Austin v. Los Angeles Unified School Dist. (2016) 244 Cal.App.4th 918, 928.) The six-month limitation period for mandatory relief under CCP § 473(b) commences at time a default judgment is rendered, rather than earlier when a default is entered. (Sugasawara v. Newland (1994) 27 Cal.App.4th 294.)

“The court shall, whenever an application for relief is made no more than six months after entry of judgment, is in proper form, and is accompanied by an attorney’s sworn affidavit attesting to his or her mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or neglect, vacate any

  1. resulting default entered by the clerk against his or her client, and which will result in entry of a default judgment, or
  2. resulting default judgment or dismissal entered against his or her client, unless the court finds that the default or dismissal was not in fact caused by the attorney’s mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or neglect.”

(Code of Civ. Proc., § 473(b); English v. IKON Business Solutions (2001) 94 Cal.App.4th 130, 143.)

“[W]hat must be attested to is the mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or neglect—not the reasons for it.” (Martin Potts & Associates, Inc. v. Corsair, LLC (2016) 244 Cal.App.4th 432, 438.)

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