Bruce C. Baillie, Stuart, for appellant.
No appearance for appellee.
The issue presented in this case is whether the trial court erred in expanding the scope of a noticed case management hearing into a final hearing on appellee's petition to determine paternity. Appellant, the mother, claims that she did not receive proper notice that a final hearing on appellee's petition was going to proceed instead of the case management conference which had been noticed. We agree and find that the trial court erred.
Appellee filed a petition to determine paternity and to award him parental responsibility and custody. The court sent a notice of a case management conference to the mother at an address she had previously provided. The postal service returned the notice as " Not Deliverable as Addressed— Unable to Forward."
After the case management conference, the trial court rendered a final judgment of paternity, parental responsibility, child access and support. The trial court noted that appellant was not present, and that the notice had been returned as undeliverable.
The trial court found appellee to be the natural and biological father of the child. The court granted appellee sole parental responsibility. The court ordered appellant to pay $1,251 a month in child support, as well as be responsible for 84% of the child's medical expenses.
Appellant filed a motion for relief from final judgment pursuant to rule 1.540(b)(4), claiming that the judgment should be vacated as void since the trial court violated her due process rights. The trial court denied appellant's motion for relief and this appeal ensued.
We review the trial court's denial of the motion for relief from judgment for
abuse of discretion. Schuman v. Int'l Consumer Corp., 50 So.3d 75 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010). Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.540(b)(4) provides: " On motion and upon such terms as are just, the court may relieve a party ... from a final judgment" where " the judgment or decree is void." As this court has explained:
A judgment is void if, in the proceedings leading up to the judgment, there is " [a] violation of the due process guarantee of notice and an opportunity to be heard.... Generally, due process requires fair notice and a real opportunity to be heard and defend in an orderly procedure before judgment is rendered."
Shiver v. Wharton, 9 So.3d 687, 690 (Fla. 4th DCA 2009) (quoting Viets v. Am. Recruiters Enters., 922 So.2d 1090, 1095 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006)).
We find that the trial court erred in denying the motion for relief from judgment, since the trial court improperly conducted a final evidentiary hearing when only a case management conference had been scheduled. A trial court violates a party's due process rights " when it expands the scope of a hearing to address and determine matters ...