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Aguchak v. Montgomery Ward Co. - 520 P.2d 1352 (Alaska 1974)

Rule:

A judgment is void and subject to attack under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(4) if the court that rendered it lacked personal jurisdiction over the defendant, or if it acted in a manner inconsistent with due process of law. The defendant has the burden of demonstrating want of jurisdiction of a denial of due process.

Facts:

Luther and Ida Aguchak, a married couple, bought a snowmobile on a charge account with Plaintiff Montgomery Ward Department Store. They fell behind in their payments and Montgomery Ward filed a small claims action 1 against them for $988.28 in the Anchorage District Court (Third Judicial District). However, the Aguchaks live in the Second Judicial District, approximately 500 miles away from Anchorage, in a small village accessible only by air. The Aguchaks were served with summonses by mail in mid-November 1971, which required the personal presence of the Aguchaks in the district court on December 27, 1971, under pain of entry of default judgment. The summonses did not mention the option of filing a written pleading. When te Aguchaks did not appear, a default judgment was taken against them in the amount of $1,024.15. Subsequently, the entirety of the Aguchaks' December 1971 and January 1972 wages were taken under writ of execution in partial satisfaction of the judgment. This execution is not a subject of the appeal. Defendants moved, inter alia, for relief from judgment pursuant to Civ.R. 60(b)(4) 2 on the grounds that the court lacked personal jurisdiction over them and that the proceedings denied them due process of law. The motion was denied by the district court. On appeal to the superior court, the decision was affirmed. Notice of appeal to the Supreme Court of Alaska was timely filed.

Issue:

Did the small claims court acquire jurisdiction over the defendants upon the service of summons with inadequate information?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The court held that the summons served upon the creditors was defective because it did not adequately convey the information necessary to their defense against the department store's claim. The court further held that the trial court's assumption of personal jurisdiction over the Aguchaks based on such a summons violated the due process rights that inured to them under the state constitution.

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