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In re Chloe C.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

November 28, 2017

IN RE CHLOE C.

          Assigned on Briefs October 2, 2017

         Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Wilson County No. 2014-DR-59 John Thomas Gwin, Judge

         The trial court denied Appellant's motion to set aside a default judgment in this parentage action. Because Appellant was not properly served notice of the default judgment under Rule 55.01 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, we reverse and remand the trial court's decision for further proceedings pursuant to this opinion.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Juvenile Court Reversed and Remanded

          C. Tracey Parks, Lebanon, Tennessee, for the appellant, Wallace A.

          Amanda G. Crowell, Lebanon, Tennessee, for the appellee, Kristina C.

          J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and Andy D. Bennett, J., joined.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          J. STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE.

         Background

         This case arises from the trial court's denial of a motion to set aside a default judgment by Respondent/Appellant Wallace A. ("Appellant").[2] Petitioner/Appellee Kristina C. ("Mother") gave birth in June 2007, to the child at issue and subsequently named Appellant as the child's biological father.

         Mother filed a petition against Appellant to establish paternity and set child support on October 29, 2014. Service was unsuccessfully attempted on Appellant three times at 4142 Erie Church Road, Bedford, Indiana 47421, an address provided by Appellant. On the third attempt, it was determined that Appellant was residing in the Branchville Correctional Facility in Branchville, Indiana. Appellant was properly served the petition on December 15, 2014, at the Branchville Correctional Facility.

         On December 16, 2014, Appellant prepared a handwritten letter stating that he: (1) was currently incarcerated at Branchville Correctional Facility; (2) had "no objection to Paternity being established"; and (3) requested the court to provide him with a "substantial amount of time to be released and defend [him]self." The trial court received this letter on December 19, 2014. Appellant filed a second letter with the court on January 26, 2015, again stating that he was incarcerated and unable to afford counsel and requesting a DNA test to determine paternity of the child.

         No further action was taken on the case until December 7, 2016, when Mother filed a motion for default judgment. A hearing for this motion was set for January 5, 2017, at 1:00 p.m. A certificate of service attached to the motion indicated that the motion was mailed to Appellant at 4142 Erie Church Road, Bedford, Indiana 47421 on December 7, 2016. However, the motion was ultimately returned to sender as "not deliverable as addressed unable to forward" on January 1, 2017.

         In the meantime, Appellant remained incarcerated at Branchville until September 15, 2015, when he was placed on home detention. Appellant remained on home detention for four and a half months. During that time, Appellant communicated with Mother's attorney informing her that he could not leave Indiana and wished to have a DNA test to determine paternity. On January 9, 2016, however, Appellant was again incarcerated at Plainfield Stop Facility until October 6, 2016.[3] Appellant was subsequently released later in October 2016, but was incarcerated ...


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