Motion for Relief from Judgment Under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.540(b)(5) – Change in Circumstances – No Longer Equita

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When the Court enters an order or judgment, the Court expects that the order or judgment will continue to have an effect and bind the parties at all times following the entry of the order. However, sometimes, it can become inequitable for the order to be enforced going forward.

A party may seek relief from a judgment, order, or decree under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.540(b)(5), on the grounds that “it is no longer equitable that the judgment or decree should have prospective application.” Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.540(b)(5).

Where a party seeks relief from an order, judgment, or decree on the grounds that it would no longer be equitable to enforce the order, the party seeking this relief must show that they have experienced a substantial change in circumstances. The substantial change in circumstances must be something that occurred after the court entered the order, judgment, or decree, and the substantial change in circumstances must make it inequitable for the order, judgment, or decree to continue to apply to the parties.

In Smith v. Frank Griffin Volkswagen, Inc., the Second District Court of Appeal held that it was inequitable to enforce the provision of the judgment which was based on a party’s making use of a remedy “which was discovered to be illusory.”Smith, 645 So. 2d 585, 588 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994). The Smith Court held that, because the party who attempted to exercise the remedy could not exercise the remedy until after judgment, that party had proper grounds—after judgment—to bring a motion under Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.540(b)(5). Id.

Similarly, Florida courts will not grant relief from an order, judgment, or decree on grounds that a party could have raised during litigation of the case. For example, if a defendant could have raised a certain defense before the court entered judgment, the defense would not be available as a “substantial change in circumstances” even if the defendant raised that defense for the first time after the court entered its judgment.

In Steele v. Brown, the First District Court of Appeal found no substantial change in circumstances necessitating the trial court’s setting aside an order where the contents of a will were known for many years, and the death of the decedent did not effectuate “alteration or change” in property rights. 197 So. 3d 106, 110 (Fla. 1st DCA 2016). In Gimbel v. Int’l Mailing & Printing Co., Inc., the Fourth District Court of Appeal held that there was no substantial change in circumstances where the trial court was already aware of the defendant’s claim for setoff before the court entered its final judgment. 505 So. 2d 631, 632 (Fla. 4th DCA 1987).

Where a party has experienced a substantial change in circumstances, the substantial change in circumstances occurred after the court entered its order, and because of the substantial change in circumstances it is no longer equitable that the order be enforced, that party has grounds to bring a motion for relief from the order under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.540(b)(5).

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