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Doland v. Berrios

United States District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania

February 3, 2015

SHAWN I. DOLAND, Plaintiff
v.
LUIS BERRIOS, COMSTAR ENTERPRISES, INC., BWAABI AMAJUWON and FAF, INC., Third-Party Plaintiffs/Defendants
v.
NEW PENN MOTOR EXPRESS, INC., THEODORE MRKONJA, TIMOTHY FREDERICK, GAILLARD STROYE, GREATER OMAHA EXPRESS, LLC, ADONIUS SHORES, and TAYLOR XPRESS Third-Party Defendants

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Martin C. Carlson, United States Magistrate Judge.

I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

This case arises out of a February 26, 2010, snowbound chain reaction multi-vehicle accident on Interstate 76 in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. On February 26, 2010, during a snow storm on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a tractor-trailer operated by Robert Smith, who was then employed by CRST collided with a tractor trailer operated by Carlos Sheppard. Another tractor-trailer, owned by WFM and operated by Allen Kauffman, then struck the CRST tractor trailer. Observing the accident ahead of him, Galliard Stroye, operating a Greater Omaha Express tractor trailer, came to a halt in the left hand lane of the turnpike. A tractor trailer owned by New Penn Motor Express, Inc., and operated by Timothy Frederick, also came to a stop in the right hand lane of the turnpike, along side the Greater Omaha Express truck. Frederick’s New Penn tractor trailer was then struck from behind by a second New Penn tractor trailer operated third party defendant, Theodore Mrkonja. The force of this collision caused the New Penn vehicles to slide to their left and third party defendant Frederick’s vehicle struck the Omaha Express tractor trailer which was along side it.

In the meanwhile, several vehicles had come to a sudden stop immediately behind the Omaha and New Penn trucks in the left hand lane of the turnpike. These vehicles included an automobile operated by the plaintiff, Shawn Doland, a second automobile, and a tractor trailer owned by Taylor Xpress Lines, inc., and operated by Adonius Shore. In a matter of minutes, these vehicles became embroiled in yet another series of chain reaction accidents when Luis Berrios, operating a tractor trailer owned by Comstar Enterprises, Inc., struck the Taylor Xpress tractor trailer, forcing it into the cars stopped in front of that truck. Within seconds, yet another collision occurred when Bwaabi Amajuwon, who was driving a tractor trailer owned by FAF, Inc., collided with the rear of Berrios’ truck, forcing it into the vehicles in front of it in a chain reaction fashion.

This Palsgrafian[1] proximate cause scenario led to the instant litigation. As part of this litigation on March 12, 2012, a third party complaint was served by Defendants/Third Party Plaintiff Berrios and Comstar upon Taylor Xpress by certified mail at that company’s business address, 1516 S. Wabash Avenue, Apt. 206, Chicago, Illinois. The mail delivery receipt was signed by Rosana Taylor.

Twenty months then passed without Taylor Xpress taking the slightest action to defend this lawsuit in federal court or question the adequacy of this service of process. After this prolonged period of complete inaction on Taylor’s part, on November 5, 2013, Berrios and Comstar moved for the entry of a default judgment against Taylor. Default was then entered against this third party defendant on November 6, 2013.

Another year then passed without any action by Taylor to litigate this case, or address it prior defaults in this litigation. Finally, on November 25, 2014, 32 months after service of the third party complaint and more than one year after entry of default, Taylor filed a motion to reopen this case. (Doc. 156.) In its motion to reopen, Taylor alleged for the first time and in a summary fashion that initial service of process was improper because Rosana Taylor was not was an officer of Taylor Xpress authorized to accept service. Taylor then asserted without any further elaboration that it had belatedly determined that it has some currently unidentified defenses to this litigation, and sought to set aside its defaults over the past three years. (Id.)

Berrios and Comstar have responded to this motion to reopen default judgment in a compelling fashion, providing evidence supporting the sufficiency of its service of process upon Taylor Xpress through Rosana Taylor. Specifically, Berrios and Comstar have presented evidence showing that Rosana Taylor was the Vice President of Taylor Xpress; was the co-owner of the property listed at 1516 Wabash Avenue which was designated at the business address of Taylor Xpress; was apparently related to Dachon Taylor, the President of Taylor Xpress by blood or marriage; and had held herself out as the Fleet Manager for Taylor Xpress, a position that entailed wide-ranging supervisory responsibilities at that company. (Doc. 158.)

Presented with this compelling proof, Taylor Xpress has elected not to dispute in any fashion the averments made by Berrios and Comstar. Thus, Taylor Xpress has not filed any reply brief in support of its motion to reopen, and the time for filing a reply brief has now passed. Therefore, we will consider this motion in light of the unrebutted factual averments made by Berrios and Comstar.

On these uncontested facts, Taylor Xpress’ motion to reopen default will be denied.

II. Discussion

A. Default Motions- Standard of Review

Default judgments are governed by Rule 55 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Under Rule 55 a default judgment may only be entered when the party against whom the default judgment is sought was served and “has failed to plead or otherwise respond.” Rule 55(a), F.R.Civ.P. Furthermore, in ruling upon requests relating to default judgments it is well-settled that these decisions are:

[L]eft primarily to the discretion of the district court. Tozer v. Charles A. Krause Milling Co., 189 F.2d 242, 244 (3d Cir.1951). We recognize, however, that this Court does not favor entry of defaults or default judgments. We require doubtful cases to be resolved in favor of the party moving to [deny or] set aside the default judgment “so that cases may be decided on their merits.” Id. at 245. See also Gross v. Stereo Component Systems, Inc., 700 F.2d 120, 122 (3d Cir.1983); Feliciano v. Reliant Tooling Company, Ltd., 691 F.2d 653, 656 (3d Cir.1982); Farnese v. Bagnasco, 687 F.2d 761, 764 (3d Cir.1982). Nevertheless, we do not [deny or] set aside the entry of default and default judgment unless we determine that the district court abused its discretion. We require the district court to consider the following factors in exercising its discretion . . .: (1) whether the plaintiff will be prejudiced; (2) whether the defendant has a meritorious ...

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