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If you failed to appear at your Small Claims trial, the plaintiff will have obtained a default judgment against you. You cannot appeal a default judgment, but if you failed to appear for a good reason, it may be possible for you to reopen the judgment. As a general rule, your request to reopen the judgment must be made within 12 months of the date of entry of judgment. Some cases may warrant exceptions to the rules.

The statute that the court will refer to in determining whether to grant your request to reopen a default judgment is Wisconsin Statute 799.29. The statute provides, among other things, that the trial court may reopen a default judgment upon notice and good cause shown, such as mistake, inadvertence, or excusable neglect.

It will also be necessary to show that you had and still have a valid defense to the plaintiff's claim. Obviously, from the judge's view, there is little point to allowing a default judgment to be reopened if all that is going to happen is that the same judgment will once more be granted to the plaintiff.

Each Wisconsin county may have a different method for how a request to reopen a default judgment will be handled. Therefore, you should go to the courthouse and speak with the Clerk of Court. There are two Wisconsin Circuit Court forms that you could use to petition the court to reopen the case. One is to be used if you were not notified correctly of the proceeding (form SC-511). The other is to be used if you were notified, but you did not appear because of a mistake, inadvertence, or excusable neglect on your part (form SC-515). Ask the Clerk for one of these forms. Also ask the Clerk for any information on Small Claims procedures for that county. The Clerk cannot give you legal advice, but he or she can give you information about procedures.

You will need the case caption (the name of the plaintiff, the name of the defendant, and the case number, which are found on the Summons and Complaint) in order to fill out the form. The Clerk will need this information in order to find the correct court file. On the form, state in your own words why you believe you are entitled to have the matter reopened. Be sure to send the original form to the Clerk and a copy of that letter to the opposing party (the plaintiff) at the same time that you send the request to the court. Since letters can get lost in the mail, be sure to check to see if your request was received by the Small Claims Clerk. Always keep a copy for your own records of anything you send to the court or to the opposing party.

Additional Information
Wisconsin State Statutes website:
Wisconsin Circuit Court Forms website:

The above is intended to provide general information only and is not a substitute for thorough and specific advice on an individual case. Depending on the complexity of your legal problem, you may need to consult an attorney for advice or representation.

This was prepared by the staff of Legal Action of Wisconsin, Inc. on behalf of low-income clients and was funded by the Legal Services Corporation, Washington, D.C. 20005. Any opinions contained herein are those of the authors and should not be construed as those of the Legal Services Corporation.

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©August 2006 Legal Action of Wisconsin, Inc.

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