United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania
GENE E.K. PRATTER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
After Defendant Cheng Cui failed to respond to its Amended Complaint, Malibu Media filed this motion for default judgment, seeking statutory damages, attorneys’ fees, costs, and a permanent injunction. Mr. Cui did not respond to Malibu Media’s motion. The Court held a hearing on the matter on October 22, 2014. The matter is now ripe for decision.
Malibu Media alleges that the owner of IP address 188.8.131.52 illegally downloaded and distributed its copyrighted works (adult films) via the BitTorrent file distribution network. This IP address was identified by Malibu Media’s investigator, IPP International. After filing the Complaint in this action, Malibu identified Cheng Cui as the owner of the IP address via a subpoena of his internet service provider. It served Mr. Cui on January 27, 2014. When Mr. Cui failed to file a timely answer, Malibu Media requested entry of default. The Clerk entered default on March 17, 2014. After months passed and no activity appeared on the docket, the Court ordered Malibu Media to show cause why its claims should not be dismissed for lack of prosecution. Within two days, Malibu Media filed a motion for default judgment.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55 governs the procedure a plaintiff must follow to obtain a default judgment against a nonresponsive defendant. First, if the plaintiff shows the defendant’s “fail[ure] to plead or otherwise defend, ... the clerk must enter [the defendant’s] default, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a), which is only valid if the defendant was properly served. See Petrucelli v. Bohringer & Ratzinger, 46 F.3d 1298, 1304 (3d Cir.1995).
The plaintiff may then “apply to the court for a default judgment.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2). The court’s initial inquiry is “whether the unchallenged facts constitute a legitimate cause of action.” 10A Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller, et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 2688 (3d ed. 2013) (citing cases). As at the motion to dismiss stage, the court accepts as true the well-pleaded factual allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint, except those relating to damages, as though they were admitted or established by proof, Comdyne I, Inc. v. Corbin, 908 F.2d 1142, 1149 (3d Cir. 1990), as well as all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the complaint, e.g., Yang v. Hardin, 37 F.3d 282, 286 (7th Cir.1994). Conclusory allegations and the parties’ legal theories or “conclusions of law” are not entitled to the same presumption and are not deemed admitted. Wright & Miller, supra, § 2688.
If the court determines that the plaintiff has stated a cause of action, it must then assess damages. Unlike liability, unless damages are “liquidated or computable, ” they “cannot be awarded simply on the basis of the pleadings, but must instead be established at an evidentiary hearing held pursuant to [Rule] 55(b)(2), ” Comdyne I, 908 F.2d at 1152, or otherwise by such proof as the plaintiff may submit without a hearing.
Default judgments are disfavored, see Farnese v. Bagnasco, 687 F.2d 761, 764 (3d Cir. 1982); the default judgment context usually offers none of the adversarial argument upon which the American legal system is founded and which remains a pillar of courts’ ability to make informed and well-reasoned decisions. Thus, under Chamberlain v. Giampapa, 210 F.3d 154 (3d Cir. 2000), the district court must examine three additional factors to determine whether it should grant a default judgment: “(1) prejudice to the plaintiff if default is denied, (2) whether the defendant appears to have a litigable defense, and (3) whether defendant’s delay is due to culpable conduct.” Chamberlain, 210 F.3d at 164.
“Considerable delays, ” especially those that might “stretch on indefinitely, ” are sufficient to show prejudice to the plaintiff. Grove v. Rizzi 1857 S.P.A., No. 04–2053, 2013 WL 943283, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 12, 2013) (citation omitted). Second, outside of the court’s obligation to decide whether it has jurisdiction and whether the complaint states a claim, the court may presume that an absent defendant who has failed to answer has no meritorious defense, e.g., Doe v. Simone, No. 12–5825, 2013 WL 3772532, at *5 (D.N.J. July 17, 2013), because “[i]t is not the court's responsibility to research the law and construct the parties’ arguments for them, ” Econ. Folding Box Corp. v. Anchor Frozen Foods Corp., 515 F.3d 718, 721 (7th Cir. 2008). Third, the defendant’s failure or refusal to “engage[ ] in the litigation process and [to] offer[ ] no reason for this failure or refusal” may “qualif[y] as culpable conduct with respect to the entry of a default judgment—indeed, for the Court to conclude otherwise would be to reward the recalcitrant or the oppositional and uncooperative.” E. Elec. Corp. of N.J. v. Shoemaker Constr. Co., 657 F.Supp.2d 545, 554 (E.D. Pa. 2009).
Malibu Media served its Amended Complaint on Mr. Cui on January 27, 2014. Because Mr. Cui resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, this Court has personal jurisdiction. Malibu Media alleges that Mr. Cui violated its copyrights by illegally downloading files through a BitTorrent file distribution network. Another court in this District has described the BitTorrent protocol as follows:
[T]he BitTorrent software works automatically, joining together multiple internet subscribers (the “swarm”) who are seeking to download the same movie at the same time. These individuals do not know each other. The software sends different “bits” of the same movie to different users and when the overall download is completed, each internet subscriber who has logged on to the software will have the complete movie on his or her own computer hard drive.
Malibu Media LLC v. John Does 1, 6, 13, 14, 950 F.Supp.2d 779, 783-84 (E.D. Pa. 2013). The “bits” have unique “file hashes” that allow an investigator to track them back to the computer where they originated. Here, Malibu Media alleges that its private investigator downloaded from Mr. Cui “bits” of 24 different copyrighted movies owned by Malibu Media, demonstrating that Mr. Cui has downloaded those ...