As a general rule, after expiration of a judgment’s term of entry, a Georgia court has no ability to modify or amend the judgment in any matter of substance or in any matter affecting the merits, unless authorized by statute.(1) A court, however, at any time can correct “[c]lerical mistakes in judgments, orders, or other parts of the record and errors therein arising from oversight or omission.”(2) But what distinguishes an authorized correction of a clerical error from an invalid substantive modification? This article attempts to answer that question.
Correctible clerical errors or omissions include irregularities that are apparent from the face of the record or mathematical errors that are obvious from the judgment.(3) A correctible clerical error or omission also includes one for which, following a hearing on a motion to correct the judgment, the evidence compels a conclusion that the error or omission was in fact clerical in nature.(4)
Provisions intentionally included by a court in its order cannot constitute clerical mistakes or errors arising from oversight or omission.(5) Nor may a court make substantive changes to an order or clarifications that alter a litigant’s substantive rights, under the guise of correcting a clerical error.(6)
If a party to a case raises a factual dispute about an alleged error or omission in a final order, that factual dispute will preclude the court from correcting the alleged error or omission.(7) For instance, in a divorce action where the husband contended that the final decree mistakenly listed the amount of his income, the wife’s contention that the decree correctly listed husband’s income precluded the trial court from reforming the final decree to state a different income figure.(8)
Finally, a party’s unreasonable delay in discovering or seeking correction of a clerical error or omission, or a demonstrated prejudice to the other party from correction of the error or omission, conceivably may prevent issuance of a corrected judgment.(9)
(1) Floyd v. Floyd, 291 Ga. 605, 732 S.E.2d 258 (2012); Tremble v. Tremble, 288 Ga. 666, 668(1), 706 S.E.2d 453 (2011); Leggette v. Leggette, 286 Ga. 323-324(1), 687 S.E.2d 585 (2009). (2) O.C.G.A. § 9-11-60(g). (3) Ekhorutomwen v. Jamison, A20A1539 (Ga. Ct. App., September 29, 2020), citing Capital Cargo v. Port of Port Royal, 261 Ga. App. 803, 805(1), 584 S.E.2d 54 (2003). (4) Rouse v. Arrington, 283 Ga. App. 204, 205, 641 S.E.2d 214 (2007); and Cherry v. Moreton Rolleston Living Trust, 273 Ga. App. 876, 879, 616 S.E.2d 157 (2005). (5) Porter-Martin v. Martin, 280 Ga. 150, 151, 625 S.E.2d 743 (2006). (6) Ekhorutomwen, supra. Accord, Porter-Martin, supra, 280 Ga. at 151. (7) Porter-Martin, supra, 280 Ga. at 152. (8) Id. (9) See generally Page v. Holiday Inns, Inc., 245 Ga. 12, 13, 262 S.E.2d 783 (1980); and Sanson v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 276 Ga. App. 555, 556-557, 623 S.E.2d 743 (2005).