Justice Atkinson is perhaps most famous for her judgment in the case of Yankee Doodles v Blemvale Pty Ltd, an oft-quoted and highly influential case in Queensland which shaped the law relating to when courts will exercise their discretion whether to set aside default judgments against defendants.
The plaintiff had obtained judgment for recovery of possession of land, mesne profits and costs, and the defendant had made application to have the judgment set aside.
After rejecting the defendant’s argument that judgment had been irregularly entered, her Honour discussed the circumstances in which the court will set aside a regularly obtained default judgment, reiterating that the defendant providing a satisfactory explanation for the failure to appear and the length of delay for making the application are both factors that the court will consider. However, citing the Australian Capital Territory case of Sue Oclee Pty Ltd v Bak, her Honour went on to emphasise the requirement for the defendant to have a prima facie defence on the merits:
The decision whether or not to set aside a default judgment is discretionary. An affidavit in support of an application to set aside judgment entered into in default of appearance to a writ of summons must set out all the defences on which the defendant intends to rely and briefly set out the facts by which the defendant seeks to establish such defences. A mere statement by the defendant that he or she has a good defence is not sufficient to justify a review of the exercise of judicial discretion. The defendant must demonstrate “a very compelling reason” for the failure to appear and that it has a plausible defence either in law or in fact. Before allowing a defendant to come in and defend, the court should have before it material which enables it to say how it came about that the defendant found itself bound by a judgment regularly entered; that the defendant genuinely desires to be allowed to come in and present its case; and that issues are raised in such a form as to require serious consideration of the defence put forward.
Observing that the defendant did not exhibit or tender any proposed defence to the action, Justice Atkinson concluded that it did “not appear to have a plausible defence such as would cause the court to exercise its discretion to set aside the default judgment”. As a result, her Honour dismissed the defendant’s application to set aside the default judgment.