Fifth District reverses Matoesian's order granting default judgment against nursing home resident

By Glenn Minnis | Apr 19, 2019

MT. VERNON -- The Fifth District Appellate Court reversed Madison County Circuit Judge Andreas Matoesian’s order granting default judgment in favor of a nursing care facility that sued a resident for allegedly reneging on his contractual obligations to pay for services. 

Justice Judy Cates delivered the April 10 opinion with Justices James Randy Moore and John Barberis concurring. They concluded that Matoesian erred when he denied the resident’s motion to vacate default judgment, which was entered at a hearing that the defendant did not receive notice of. The order was reversed, all other orders from the June 2, 2017 hearing in question were vacated, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. 

Plaintiff Godfrey Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center LLC filed suit on Dec. 21, 2016, alleging defendant John Toigo failed to pay for the care and services he received while he was a resident at the facility, ultimately running up a tab of $121,250.14 in unpaid costs.

According to the complaint, Toigo became a resident at the facility in 2011 when it was operated by SA-ENC-Blu Fountain LLC, doing business as Blu Fountain Manor (BFM). The suit alleges Toigo suffered a stroke that left him with an assortment of lingering medical conditions. 

Soon after, Godfrey Healthcare alleges it took over ownership of the facility and continued to provide care and services to Toigo without being compensated. 

In addition to the balance, Godfrey Healthcare’s attorney. Jana Yocum Rine of Yocum Rine Law Office also sought damages in excess of the jurisdictional limits of the court, plus interest, litigation costs and all other relief that the court may deem just and proper.

Matoesian granted Michael Toigo’s petition to act as next friend of John Toigo after he asserted his father “suffered from multiple infirmities, and was unable to represent himself in the action.” More specifically, Michael Toigo argued his father was not competent to testify because he was 92 years old, deaf, did not use sign language, and had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. 

The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint through attorneys Philip J. Lading and Casey F. Wong of Sandberg Phoenix & von Gontard in St. Louis. Michael Toigo argued that his father’s arrangement was with Blu Fountain. He also challenged Godfrey Healthcare’s standing to bring the case.

“Specifically, the defendant pointed out the action was based upon an alleged agreement, wherein BFM was the party to the agreement, not Godfrey Healthcare. The defendant pointed out that the plaintiff had not attached any documents demonstrating that defendant’s agreement with Blu Fountain Manor had been assigned to the plaintiff,” the appellate decision states. 

In its response, Godfrey Healthcare “characterized defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of standing as ‘preposterous’ and asserted that the motion to dismiss was a tactic employed to avoid answering the complaint.”

Matoesian granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss, and the plaintiff filed an amended complaint on Feb. 27, 2017.

Then in May 2017, Sandberg Phoenix & von Gontard withdrew as counsel for the defendant.

However, a notice of a June 2, 2017, hearing was sent to Toigo’s former counsel instead of Michael Toigo. As a result, the defendant did not appear at the hearing. 

Matoesian found the defendant to be in default and entered an order granting default judgment against Toigo due to the defendant’s failure to appear. 

Toigo filed a motion to reconsider on July 3, 2017, which was denied on Nov. 3, 2017. 

Toigo appealed. 

The appellate court noted that Godfrey Healthcare admits that it did not give notice to Toigo at the address specified in a May 3, 2017, order after the defendants’ counsel withdrew “because it believed that defendant’s attorney had not properly withdrawn.”

“That plaintiff decided to ignore the language in the May 3, 2017, order – and instead serve defendant’s former attorney of record – was asignificant legal risk,” Cates wrote. 

The appellate court concluded that prior to default judgment, “defendant had been actively engaged in his defense. Defendant had filed an answer to plaintiff’s amended complaint, and affirmative defenses challenging plaintiff’s standing to bring the claim.”

The appellate court further held that Godfrey Healthcare was obligated by “court rules and common courtesy” to notify Toigo of its intent to present an oral motion for default judgment. 

Because Toigo was not properly served and had been active in the case, the appellate court found that Matoesian erred in denying the defendant’s motion to vacate default judgment, and “substantial justice requires” that all orders entered at the June 2, 2017, hearing be vacated. 

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