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Horinek v. Gacsal

Court of Appeals of Oklahoma, Division II

May 31, 2018

TODD HORINEK, Plaintiff/Appellee,
v.
ELIZABETH GRACE GACSAL, Defendant/Appellant.

          Mandate Issued: 06/27/2018

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF WASHINGTON COUNTY, OKLAHOMA HONORABLE KYRA FRANKS, TRIAL JUDGE

          Mark A. Warman, FRANDEN| FARRIS| QUILLIN GOODNIGHT ROBERTS, Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Defendant/Appellant

          JANE P. WISEMAN, PRESIDING JUDGE

         ¶1 Elizabeth Grace Gacsal appeals trial court orders granting judgment in favor of Todd Horinek and denying her motion for new trial and/or motion to vacate in this small claims case. The principal issue is whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying a new trial after refusing to continue the small claims trial because Gacsal's counsel was late. After reviewing the facts and applicable law, we conclude Gacsal's brief in chief reasonably supports her claim that the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to continue the hearing and in refusing to grant a new trial. Accordingly, we reverse its orders and remand for a new trial.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶2 On November 15, 2016, Horinek filed a small claims action arising from a car accident seeking against Gacsal $7, 500 in damages "for [d]imunition of value/property damage," plus costs. The court ordered Gacsal to appear on January 10, 2017, at 9:00 a.m. On January 10, 2017, the court entered judgment in favor of Horinek in the amount of $7, 500, plus costs in the amount of $213.

         ¶3 On January 17, 2017, Gacsal filed a "Motion for New Trial and/or to Vacate Judgment" alleging that she appeared for "trial and advised this Court that she was represented and that her attorney was on his way to the hearing but was late due to a clerical error of scheduling." She stated, "Counsel for the Defendant did call the court clerk to advise of the error [1] and advise that he was on his way to represent the interest of his client. The clerk called back and advised defense counsel that she had talked with the Court and the hearing would not be delayed." Gacsal's counsel "appeared at 10:30 a.m. due to the above-noted clerical error (hearing date was not put on counsel's calendar)." Gacsal alleged, "The Court conducted a hearing by looking at a variety of documents presented to the Court from the Plaintiff. Defendant was not provided a copy of said documents and did not see what was given to the Court." Gacsal stated, "After reviewing these documents, the Court awarded the Plaintiff $7, 500.00 plus costs and expenses against this Defendant without the benefit of sworn testimony, cross-examination or disclosure of evidence against her."

         ¶4 Gacsal asserted that a new trial should be granted pursuant to 12 O.S. § 651 (1) and (6). [2] She maintains she "was denied a fair trial when the Court conducted the hearing without allowing defense counsel to appear, albeit late, due to clerical error." She further claimed irregularity in the proceedings because:

The hearing of this matter took place in the following manner after mediation failed. [3] The Court called the case, Plaintiff and Defendant stood before the Court, Plaintiff handed the Court a variety of documents and the Court reviewed [the] same. Plaintiff requested more money than originally pled or allowed under small claims procedures. The Court correctly refused, but then entered judgment against the Defendant.
It should be noted that no witnesses were sworn to testify, no access to the documents were [ sic ] given, and no cross-examination was allowed. No testimony was taken as to why Defendant would be indebted to Plaintiff. Defendant was not allowed to confront witnesses or exhibits.

         Gacsal attached her affidavit to support her motion for new trial/motion to vacate.

         ¶5 The trial court denied Gacsal's motion for new trial, stating:

Further, there are many factual inaccuracies contained within said Motion, including but not limited to, Defendant's assertion that the parties were ...

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