SUNGREEN LAWNCARE, L.L.C. and MATTHEW ROMINE, Plaintiffs/Counterclaim Defendants-Appellees,
BEAUTIFUL LAWNS BY LONGS, L.L.C. and BRANDAN LONG, Defendants/Counterclaim Plaintiffs-Appellants.
from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Brad McCall,
Lawns by Longs, L.L.C. and Brandan Long appeal the district
court's dismissal of their petition to modify default
judgment. REVERSED AND REMANDED.
P. Murphy of Hopkins & Huebner, Adel, for appellants.
Sungreen Lawncare, L.L.C. and Matthew Romine, Urbandale,
Considered by Mullins, P.J., and Bower and McDonald, JJ.
MULLINS, Presiding Judge.
Lawns by Longs, L.L.C. (Beautiful Lawns) and Brandan Long
appeal the district court's dismissal of their petition
to modify default judgment. We reverse and remand.
Background Facts and Proceedings
litigation arose from the parties' dispute over lawn
equipment. Sungreen Lawn Care, L.L.C. (Sungreen) and Matthew
Romine brought suit in August 2015 against numerous
defendants, including Beautiful Lawns and Long. In September,
Beautiful Lawns and Long, along with other defendants who are
employees of Beautiful Lawns, answered, and Beautiful Lawns
asserted three counterclaims: (1) declaratory judgment
regarding its ownership of the disputed equipment, (2)
injunctive relief, and (3) unjust enrichment. On September
10, the district court granted Beautiful Lawn's request
for temporary injunction, which enjoined Romine from
"sell[ing] the equipment until th[e] temporary
injunction is set aside or otherwise lifted." On
September 15, counsel for Romine and Sungreen filed a motion
to withdraw, which the court granted on September 23.
November 10, summary judgment was granted to Beautiful Lawns
and its employees on Sungreen and Romine's petition. Two
days later, Beautiful Lawns and Long filed an application for
default judgment with regard to their counterclaims. In
December, Beautiful Lawns and Long filed an application to
modify the temporary injunction, asking that the court direct
Sungreen and Romine to return the equipment to Long to
prevent it from being stolen or otherwise harmed. The
district court granted the unresisted modification request on
December 30, ordering Sungreen and Romine to grant Long
access to the equipment in order to "secure and retain
January 8, 2016, the district court entered default judgment
against Sungreen and Romine and, in relevant part, ordered
Sungreen and Romine to return the equipment to Beautiful
Lawns and awarded damages on the unjust enrichment claim. On
January 27, when the equipment was not returned, Beautiful
Lawns and Long filed an application for rule to show cause.
After filing this application, Long learned Romine
purportedly sold one of the mowers back in August 2015-before
the counterclaim was even filed-and additional equipment had
been sold from a storage unit on February 12,
2016-after default judgment had been entered. A
hearing was held on the application for rule to show cause,
at which time Romine claimed he was in jail when the
equipment was sold from the storage unit in February and thus
he had no knowledge of the sale and was unable to prevent
In April 2016, the district court entered an order on the
application for rule to show cause, finding the clerk of
court failed to set up Romine "as a pro se litigant to
receive copies of any court orders or other filings in this
matter" and thus "the court c[ould not] find beyond
a reasonable doubt that [Romine] was provided a copy of the
orders which he is alleged to have violated, both of which
were entered after his prior attorney withdrew from the
result, on June 8, 2016, Beautiful Lawns and Long filed a
petition to modify the court's January 8, 2016 default
judgment, requesting a "trial on conversion
damages." The district court denied the petition to
modify without a hearing, reasoning:
In the Petition to Modify Judgment the Counterclaim
Plaintiffs now seek to amend the judgment to include damages
for an alleged conversion of the lawn maintenance equipment
occurring, perhaps, before the original Judgment was entered,
and perhaps later. In this Petition to Modify Judgment the
Counterclaim Plaintiffs seek to modify the Judgment to
recover damages on a new and different theory not included in
the original action. The Counterclaim Plaintiffs recognized
the possibility of this new and different theory of recovery,
alleging in the Counterclaim "if the equipment has been
sold Beautiful Lawns will seek leave to amend and to bring
valid claims against any Plaintiff(s) and any person who
knowingly accepted the proceeds of the equipment."
The Judgment entered on January 8, 2016 is a final judgment.
While the Counterclaim Plaintiffs may assert a new cause of
action against the Plaintiffs on the basis of alleged
conversion of the lawn maintenance equipment, they may not
now simply have the prior judgment modified to ...