United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
MATTHEW W. BRANN, District Judge.
Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment (ECF No. 13), Magistrate Judge William I. Arbuckle, III's Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 14) regarding that Motion, and Defendant Jason Letteer's pro se letter on the record, which the Court construes as a motion to set aside default (ECF No. 16). Plaintiff filed a response to Letteer's letter (ECF No. 20) and Letteer submitted a letter in reply (ECF No. 21). For the reasons discussed, Letteer's default is removed for good cause, the Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment is denied without prejudice, and Judge Arbuckle's Report and Recommendation is not adopted because it is moot in light of this decision.
Plaintiff, Joe Hand Promotions, Inc. ("Joe Hand" or "Plaintiff"), commenced this action by filing a Complaint on September 19, 2012 (ECF No. 1). The Complaint alleges that the three Defendants, Larry W. Tickle, Jr., Jason R. Letteer, and Cafe Bellisimo, together doing business as "Daddy McFatty's, " a tavern in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, unlawfully exhibited a television program without the appropriate license or legal authority to do so. The Plaintiff held the rights to broadcast the Program, namely the "Ultimate Fighting Championship 119: Frank Mir v. Mirko Cro Cop." The Plaintiff entered into sublicensing agreements with commercial entities throughout the United States, granting the sublicensees the right to publicly exhibit the Program for the benefit and entertainment of their patrons.
Plaintiff alleges that, on Saturday, September 25, 2010, investigator Jason Hannum observed the unlawful exhibition of the Program at the Defendants' establishment. The exhibition was unlawful because the Defendants did not possess the required sublicense, thereby violating the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992, 47 U.S.C. § 553, and the Federal Communications Act of 1934, 47 U.S.C. § 605. Plaintiff also alleges a common-law claim of conversion.
Plaintiff filed certificates of service representing that service was made on Jason R. Letteer on January 22, 2013 (ECF No. 6); on Larry W. Tickle, Jr. on February 8, 2013 (ECF No. 9); and on Cafe Bellisimo on February 8, 2013 (ECF No. 10). No Defendant filed a timely responsive pleading. Consequently, the Plaintiff requested an entry of Default for each Defendant on May 10, 2013 (ECF No. 11), and the Clerk of Court entered Default as to Defendants Cafe Bellisimo, Jason R. Letteer, and Larry W. Tickle, Jr. on that date (ECF No. 12), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55.
The Plaintiff then filed a Motion for Default Judgment as to all Defendants on July 2, 2013 (ECF No. 13). The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge William I. Arbuckle, III, who issued a Report and Recommendation on the motion on August 8, 2013 (ECF No. 14). Judge Arbuckle's report recommended default judgment be entered against all three defendants and calculated damages in accordance with the applicable statutes.
Before resolution of the Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment, Defendant Jason Letteer, pro se, filed a letter on the record (ECF No. 16). The letter alleges that Defendant Letteer dissolved all business relations with Daddy McFatty's and the other Defendants in this case as of June 2006. Attached to the letter, Defendant Letteer included documentation of a notarized agreement, entered into on June 27, 2006, that purportedly dissolved business associations between Defendant Letteer and Defendants Tickle and Cafe Bellisimo. Pertinently, Letteer alleged the agreement removed him "from the liquor license and relinquish[ed] all rights in said business." Letteer's Letter, Ex. 1, Aug. 16, 2013, ECF No. 16.
Consequently, Defendant Letteer alleges he took no part in the business beyond June 2006, and is not liable for the activities of 2010 that are at issue in the present matter. The Court construes Defendant Letteer's letter as a motion that the entry of default against him be set aside for good cause under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(c). See Liggon-Redding v. Estate of Sugarman , 659 F.3d 258, 265 (3d Cir. 2011) ("Pro se filings... must be liberally construed."). The Court then issued an Order to Show Cause requiring Joe Hand's reply to Letteer's letter (ECF No. 17).
Joe Hand filed a Response on March 5, 2014 (ECF No. 20). In addition to legal arguments, Joe Hand supplied the available public records concerning the Defendants, including Cafe Bellisimo's certificate of incorporation and the corporation's liquor license. As of February 2, 2014, the current liquor license for the corporation lists Letteer as "Active" and identifies him as the "Vice-President, Treasurer, Stockholder and Director" of Cafe Bellisimo, Inc. Pl.'s Mot. Leave File Resp., Ex. 3, Mar. 3, 2014, ECF No. 18.
Letteer responded by letter, dated March 6, 2014 (ECF No. 21). Letteer fully maintains that his business relationship with Defendants Tickle and Cafe Bellisimo was dissolved as of 2006, and any currently existing records to the contrary are erroneous, presumptively as a result of his prior attorney's failures.
The Court considers the law in light of these facts and circumstances.
A. Motion to Set Aside ...