Colorable Entitlement: Third District of Florida Confirms That an Evidentiary Hearing Is Not Required to Deny a Motion to Vacate Final Judgment

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On September 15, 2021, Locke Lord obtained an opinion in Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal ‎matter affirming the denial of a motion to vacate a final judgment of foreclosure. In affirming the ‎denial, the Third District Court of Appeal reiterated that a movant is not entitled to an evidentiary ‎hearing on a motion for relief from judgment where the movant fails to “demonstrate a prima facie ‎case of fraud.”‎

In Azran Miami 2, LLC v. U.S. Bank Trust, N.A., Case No. 3D20-1712 (Fla. 3d DCA, September 15, ‎‎2021), the Third District Court of Appeal considered whether it was improper to deny a borrower’s ‎motion to vacate a final judgment under Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.540(3) without holding an evidentiary ‎hearing. After denying oral argument, the Third District affirmed the trial court’s denial and confirmed ‎binding precedent that requires that a movant alleging fraud “demonstrate a prima facie case of ‎fraud, not just nibble at the edges of the concept.” (quoting Hembd v. Dauria, 859 So. 2d 1238, 1240 ‎‎(Fla. 4th DCA 2003)).‎

The Court also cited to Rusniaczek v. Tableau Fine Art Grp., Inc., 139 So. 2d 355, 357-58 (Fla. 3d ‎DCA 2014) which explained that requiring specificity in a motion for relief from judgment allows trial ‎courts to make a determination whether there is a “prima facie showing which would justify relief from ‎judgment” and confirm that the motion “is not merely rehashing matters explored at trial.”‎

Impact: A borrower cannot delay the enforecement of a valid final judgment by filing a legally ‎insufficient motion for relief from final judgment.

This opinion is a strong reminder to borrowers and their counsel to avoid filing dilatory motions to ‎vacate. It has become routine for litigious borrowers and their counsel to seek to prolong foreclosure ‎proceedings by filing unsupported post-judgment motions alleging newly discovered fraud on the ‎court. Not requiring an evidentiary hearing where a borrower does show colorable entitlement, or ‎where they simply re-argue issues already decided at trial, allows Banks and Loan Servicers to ‎quickly resolve frivolous motions that could otherwise delay enforcement of valid final judgments. ‎

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