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= &n= bsp; &nbs= p; = &n= bsp; ENTRY ORDER
= &n= bsp; &nbs= p; SUPREME COURT DOCKET NO. 2004-383
= &n= bsp; &nbs= p; = &n= bsp; APRIL TERM, 2005
Bruce A. Hopkins, Inc. and Bruce A. Hopkins }= APPEALED FROM:
v. = &n= bsp; &nbs= p; = &n= bsp; } = Windsor Superior Court
Samuel D. Hamill &nb= sp;  = ; &= nbsp; &nb= sp; } = DOCKET NO. 106-2-04 Wrcv
Trial Judge: Theresa= S. DiMauro
= ; &= nbsp; &nb= sp; In the above-entitled cause, the Clerk will enter:
Defendant Samuel D. Hamill appeals the superior court’s order denying his moti= on to strike a default judgment entered in favor of plaintiffs. We affirm.
Plaintiffs filed a complaint in February 2004 alleging that defendant Loring Corporat= ion owed money on an account due, and that defendant Hamill, the owner of the corporation, was liable based upon his personal guarantee. Defendants were properly served w= ith the complaint on February 18. On= March 9, defendants filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that the court lacked personal jurisdiction over defendant Hamill because he had moved to New Hampshire and did not have sufficient ties to Vermont to support a suit ag= ainst him here. The superior court= denied the motion on March 31, warning defendant Hamill that if he wished to repr= esent the Loring Corporation, he would have to meet the standards set forth in 1= 1A V.S.A. § 3.02. On May 4= , 2004, plaintiffs filed a motion for default judgment because defendants had fail= ed to file an answer to the complaint. = span>On May 24, the superior court denied the motion because the affidavit of nonmilitary service was stale. Plaintiffs renewed their motion on June 3 along with a new affidavi= t, and the court granted the motion on June 14. On June 17, defendants filed a mo= tion to strike the default judgment, stating that they had not been provided enough time to respond. The superio= r court denied the motion, concluding that the record affirmatively showed that defendants had been given more than sufficient time to respond to plaintiffs’ complaint, and that defendant Hamill’s pro se stat= us did not excuse his failure to respond to the complaint.
On appeal, defendant argues that the superior court abused its discretion by refusing to strike the default judgment, considering that he is a pro se litigant unfamiliar with court rules, and that his valid counterclaims sho= uld be decided on the merits. We= find no abuse of discretion. “Generally, the rules relating to default judgments should be liberally construed in favor of defendants, and of the desirability of resolving litigation on the merits, to the end that fairness and justice a= re served.” Desjarlais= v. Gilman, 143 Vt. 154, 158-59 (1983).&n= bsp; Nevertheless, the trial court has broad discretion in deciding cases based on default after considering whether the defaulting party’s fa= ilure to respond was the result of mistake or inadvertence, whether the neglect = was excusable under the circumstances, and whether that party had demonstrated= a meritorious defense to plaintiffs’ claims. Id. at 157, 159. As for defendant’s pro se s= tatus, while we will not “permit unfair imposition or unconscionable advant= age to be taken of one who acts as his own attorney,” pro se litigants a= re still “bound by the ordinary rules of civil procedure.” Vahlteich v. Knott, 139 Vt= . 588, 590-91 (1981) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
the record and the trial court’s undisputed findings demonstrate that
defendant is an experienced businessmen who was involved in two other pend=
lawsuits in which he was represented by counsel, that he demonstrated his
ability to understand the rules through his filings in this case, that he =
not responded to the superior court’s warnings regarding his
representation of the corporation, that he had more than adequate time to
respond to plaintiffs’ complaint, and that he did not raise any
counterclaims until after the default judgment was entered, even though th=
claims were available to him at the onset of plaintiffs’ lawsuit.
BY THE COURT:
John A. Dooley, Associate Justice
Denise R. Johnson, Associate Justice
Frederic W. Allen, Chief Ju= stice (Ret.),