Appearances Can Be Deceiving: Default Judgments by Motion or Hearing Under Rule 55(b) of the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure

Within the span of nine months, the Arizona Court of Appeals issued two directly conflicting rulings on the correct procedures required to obtain a default judgment under Rule 55(b) of the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure. Although Rule 55(b) seems unambiguous on its face, the Arizona Court of Appeals arrived at two distinct interpretations regarding three key aspects of the rule—namely, what constitutes an appearance; when an appearance triggers the noticed hearing requirement; and when it is appropriate to grant a default judgment by motion or hearing. These competing interpretations hinge on how the policies behind the rule are balanced: Should Arizona favor conserving judicial resources or resolving cases on the merits? As it stands, Rule 55(b) most likely should be read to favor judicial economy given the history of amendments to the rule and a full reading of its plain language. If the Arizona Supreme Court ever takes up the issue, however, the Court ought to consider whether judicial economy should trump a defaulted defendant’s interest in participating in a damages hearing when that defendant has shown an interest, albeit imperfect, in defending the claim.