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Whitehead v. Star First 1 Financial, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery

May 19, 2017

KONNOR WHITEHEAD Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
STAR FIRST 1 FINANCIAL, INC. Defendant-Appellant

         Civil Appeal from Common Pleas Court Trial Court Case No. 2016-CV-1079

          ELIZABETH AHERN WELLS, Atty., RONALD L. BURDGE, Atty. Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellee

          JAMES D. MILLER, II, Atty. Attorney for Defendant-Appellant

          OPINION

          WELBAUM, J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Star First 1 Financial, Inc. ("Star First"), appeals from a judgment of the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, which overruled Star First's motion for relief from judgment. We conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in finding that Star First did not have a meritorious defense. The judgment of the trial court will be reversed and the cause remanded for the trial court to address, in the first instance, whether Star First has met the remaining requirements for relief from judgment.

         I. Facts and Course of Proceedings

         {¶ 2} On February 26, 2016, Konnor Whitehead commenced an action in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court against "Star First 1 Financial, Inc., dba Abby Auto Financial, Inc., " alleging claims for relief based on the Ohio Consumer Act, the Motor Vehicle Sales Rule, and fraud. Dkt. 1. Whitehead alleged that he purchased a 2013 Chevrolet Cruze motor vehicle from Star First on September 2, 2015. After purchasing the vehicle, Whitehead discovered that the vehicle previously had been in a severe accident in which it sustained frame damage. According to Whitehead, Star First engaged in deceptive sales practices by providing a clean Carfax to him, failing to disclose that the vehicle had previously sustained damages and was declared a total loss, and failing to disclose that a salvage and rebuilt title and a not actual mileage title had been issued for the vehicle.

         {¶ 3} No answer was filed within the time provided by rule. On April 14, 2016, Whitehead filed a motion for default judgment. Dkt. 10. On April 18, 2016, the trial court granted the motion and entered a default judgment on the issue of liability against Star First. Dkt. 11. On April 28, 2015, an answer was filed apparently on behalf of Abby Auto Financial, Inc. ("Abby Auto"). Dkt. 12. The trial court granted Whitehead's motion to strike this answer, because the pleading was filed by a non-attorney on behalf of a corporation. Dkt. 15. On July 15, 2016, following a damages hearing, the trial court entered judgment in favor of Whitehead against Star First in the amount of $44, 877.00, plus court costs and interest. Dkt. 17. No appeal was taken from this judgment.

         {¶ 4} On August 21, 2016, Star First, through counsel, filed a motion for relief from judgment pursuant to Civ.R. 60(B). Dkt. 24. Whitehead filed a memorandum in opposition to the motion. Dkt. 28. On October 31, 2016, the trial court denied First Star's motion. Dkt. 30. Star First appeals from this decision overruling its motion for relief from judgment.

         II. The Trial Court Abused Its Discretion In Overruling Star First's Motion For Relief From Judgment Based On A Finding That Star First Did Not Present A Meritorious Defense

         {¶ 5} Star First's sole assignment of error states:

         THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY DENYING THE APPELLANT'S MOTION FOR RELIEF FROM JUDGMENT PURSUANT TO CIV.R. 60(B).

         {¶ 6} Civ.R. 60(B) permits a court to grant a party relief from a final judgment. To prevail under Civ.R. 60(B), the movant must satisfy a three-prong test. The moving party must show that "(1) the party has a meritorious defense or claim to present if relief is granted; (2) the party is entitled to relief under one of the grounds stated in Civ. R. 60(B)(1) through (5); and (3) the motion is made within a reasonable time." GTE Automatic Electric v. Arc Industries, 47 Ohio St.2d 146, 150-151, 351 N.E.2d 113 (1976). "Motions for relief from judgment under Civ.R. 60(B) are addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court, and the court's ruling 'will not be disturbed on appeal absent a showing of abuse of discretion.' " Jackson v. Hendrickson, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 21921, 2008-Ohio-491, ¶ 28, quoting Griffey v. Rajan, 33 Ohio St.3d 75, 77, 514 N.E.2d 1122 (1987).

         {¶ 7} The trial court found that Star First failed to satisfy the first prong of the GTE test: that Star First had a meritorious defense or claim to present if relief ...


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