Household Finance Corp., III v. Mitchell, et. al., 36 Fla. L. Wkly D135 (Fla. 1st DCA Jan. 19, 2011)

In another mortgage foreclosure matter, the First DCA overturned the trial court’s denial of a motion to set aside default judgment, stating:

A party moving to set aside a default must show that the failure to file a timely responsive pleading was due to excusable neglect, that there is a meritorious defense to the claim, and that the request for relief from default was made with reasonable diligence after it was discovered. See Hunt Exterminating Co., Inc. v. Crum, 598 So. 2d 113 (Fla. 2d DCA 1992); Venero v. Balbuena, 652 So. 2d 1271 (Fla. 3d DCA 1995); Elliott v. Aurora Loan Servs., LLC, 31 So. 3d 304 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010). The court must deny the motion if any one of the three elements is not established. See Schwartz v. Business Cards Tomorrow, Inc., 644 So. 2d 611 (Fla. 4th DCA 1994). However, it must grant the motion to set aside default if there is reasonable doubt as to whether the moving party is entitled to relief. See Viets v. American Recruiters Enterps., Inc., 922 So. 2d 1090 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006).

In the context of a motion to set aside a default, “meritorious” means simply that the defendant plans to raise a defense that may have some merit. The movant need only show that the defense it has raised is meritorious, not that it is likely to succeed. See Rice v. James, 740 So. 2d 7 (Fla. 1st DCA 1999). A general denial does not rise to the level of a meritorious defense. See, e.g., Rivera v. Dep’t of Revenue ex rel. Rivera, 899 So. 2d 1265 (Fla. 2d DCA 2005). However, affirmative defenses, even when pled with minimal specificity, can qualify as meritorious. See, e.g., Elliott v. Aurora Loan Servs., LLC, 31 So. 3d 304 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010).