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Harris Building Group, Inc. v. Tennessee Electrical, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

June 10, 2019

HARRIS BUILDING GROUP, INC.
v.
TENNESSEE ELECTRICAL, INC.

          February 19, 2019 Session

          Appeal from the Chancery Court for Davidson County No. 17-471-I Claudia Bonnyman, Chancellor

         When the defendant failed to answer a petition for declaratory judgment, the plaintiff sought and obtained a default judgment. The defendant moved to set aside the default judgment, arguing that it never received the motion for default judgment nor notice of the hearing date on the motion. The trial court denied the defendant the requested relief, finding that the defendant's failure to answer the petition until months after entry of the default judgment was willful. Discerning no abuse of discretion, we affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed

          Casey A. Long, Franklin, Tennessee, for the appellant, Tennessee Electrical, Inc.

          William B. Hawkins III and Eric G. Evans, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Harris Building Group, Inc.

          W. Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., and Thomas R. Frierson II, J., joined.

          OPINION

          W. NEAL MCBRAYER, JUDGE.

         I.

         On May 12, 2017, in the Chancery Court for Davidson County, Tennessee, Harris Building Group, Inc. ("HBG") filed a petition for declaratory judgment against Tennessee Electrical, Inc. The petition alleged that HBG subcontracted with Tennessee Electrical to complete electrical work on a construction project for a total price of $98, 600. According to HBG, Tennessee Electrical fell behind the agreed upon work schedule, prompting HBG to tell Tennessee Electrical to "do what [it] need[ed] to do" in order to catch up. Tennessee Electrical responded by having its employees work overtime. Tennessee Electrical then invoiced HBG for the overtime costs. Among other things, HBG sought a declaratory judgment that $98, 600 was the extent of its liability and that Tennessee Electrical bore the responsibility for any additional costs it incurred to complete the work on schedule.

         On July 5, 2017, HBG served the summons and petition for declaratory judgment via electronic mail on Donald Gandee, the registered agent for Tennessee Electrical. Counsel directed the email to Mr. Gandee's counsel, who had agreed to accept service on Mr. Gandee's behalf. Later, HBG filed a "Proof of Service" attaching an email exchange in which Mr. Gandee's counsel confirmed that she was authorized by Mr. Gandee to accept service. The email from Mr. Gandee's counsel also disclosed that she would "not be representing [Mr. Gandee] in Davidson County."

         On August 11, 2017, HBG moved for a default judgment. The motion certified that a copy "ha[d] been served on this 11th day of August, 2017, upon [Tennessee Electrical at its address listed with the Secretary of State and a secondary address known to HBG as one belonging to Mr. Gandee] via USPS first class mail, postage prepaid, and via USPS certified mail, return receipt requested." The motion also included a notice of hearing, which provided as follows:

This motion is set for hearing at 9:00 a.m. on August 25, 2017 in the Davidson County Chancery Court, Part I, at 200 James Robertson Pkwy, Nashville, Tennessee 37201. IF NO RESPONSE IS TIMELY FILED AND PERSONALLY SERVED, THE MOTION SHALL BE GRANTED AND COUNSEL OR PRO SE LITIGANT NEED ...

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