United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
Malachy E. Mannion United States District Judge
before the court are the plaintiff's, Jane Doe's,
motion for default judgment, (Doc. 12), and motion
for damages, (Doc. 17), which includes a request for
compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys'
fees and costs. The plaintiff's motion for default
judgment and her motion for damages are GRANTED IN PART. The
court will enter judgment against the defendant, Shawn
Whitebread (“Officer Whitebread”), with respect
to most of the plaintiff's claims in her complaint, (Doc.
1). The court will award the plaintiff $100, 000.00
in compensatory damages and $150, 000.00 in punitive damages
based on the emotional harm she has and will continue to
suffer due to Officer Whitebread's actions. The court
will also award the plaintiff a total of $19, 678.00 in
attorneys' fees and costs.
24, 2013, Officer Whitebread allegedly sexually assaulted the
plaintiff. At the time of this incident the defendant was
employed as a police officer with the Wilkes-Barre Township
police department. On July 15, 2015, the plaintiff filed a
complaint in this court alleging violations of the Fourth and
Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and,
as such, violations to Title 42, Section 1983 of the United
States Code. In addition, the plaintiff included claims of
assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional
distress (“IIED”) under Pennsylvania state law.
All claims were brought against the defendant in his
defendant failed to enter an appearance or respond to the
plaintiff's complaint as required by Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12. On December 4, 2015, the plaintiff
obtained an entry of default from the Clerk of Court. On
March 8, 2016, the plaintiff filed a motion to enter default
judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
55. No brief in support was filed. Therefore, on October
14, 2016, the plaintiff requested that this court deem her
motion an “application” in order to obviate the
need to file a supporting brief. (Doc. 13).
October 31, 2016, the court granted the plaintiff's
request to deem her motion an “application.”
(See Docs. 14-15). The court also
determined that a hearing would be required to assess damages
prior to entering judgment. As a result, the court also
ordered the plaintiff to submit a request for damages, costs,
and fees in advance of the hearing. The plaintiff submitted
her motion for damages on December 12, 2016. (Doc.
17). A hearing was held on January 26, 2017 where
the plaintiff briefly affirmed the facts stated in her
affidavit, which was previously submitted with her motion for
damages. On February 2, 2017, at the court's direction,
the plaintiff's counsel submitted a more detailed request
for attorneys' fees. (Doc. 19).
THE MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT
Rule of Civil Procedure 55 provides a two-step process
to be used by a party seeking a default judgment against a
defendant. At step one, Rule 55(a) provides that the Clerk
“must” enter a default against a party who fails
“to plead or otherwise defend an action, and that
action is shown by affidavit or otherwise.” A default
judgment is then obtained pursuant to Rule 55(b). If the
claim is not for a sum certain the party seeking default
judgment must apply to the court for the judgment.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2). The court's decision to render a
default judgment is discretionary. Emcasco Ins. Co. v.
Sambrick, 834 F.2d 71, 74 (3d Cir. 1987). However, when
a defendant fails to appear, default judgment is authorized
“solely on the fact that the default has
occurred.” Anchorage Assocs. v. Virgin Island Bd.
of Tax Review, 922 F.2d 168, 177 n. 9 (3d Cir. 1990).
all well-pleaded facts in the plaintiff's complaint are
accepted as true after entry of default, the default itself
does not establish liability or conclusions of law.
Martin v. Nat'l Check Recovery Servs., LLC,
Civil No. 1:12-CV-1230, 2016 WL 3670849, at *1 (M.D. Pa. July
11, 2016); 10A Charles Alan Wright et al.,
Federal Practice and Procedure §2688.1 (4th ed.
2016). “[T[he court, in its discretion, may
require some proof of the facts that must be established in
order to determine liability.” 10A Charles Alan
Wright et al., supra, at §2688.1. A default also
does not establish the amount of damages that are
appropriate. Comdyne I, Inc. v. Corbin, 908 F.2d
1142, 1149 (3d Cir. 1990); Martin, 2016 WL 3670849,
at *1. The determination of damages must be made by the
court. 10A Charles Alan Wright et al., supra, at
§2688. Under Rule 55(b)(2), a hearing may be used
to determine any facts needed to establish liability and
facts needed to determine damages. Fed. R. Civ. P.
55(b)(2). Having held a hearing, pursuant to Rule 52(a),
the court makes the following findings of facts and
conclusions of law, established from both the plaintiff's
affidavit and her testimony.
Findings of Fact
night of June 24, 2013, the defendant, then a Wilkes-Barre
police officer, drove his marked vehicle behind the
plaintiff's vehicle while she was parked on a street in
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. It appears from the affidavit
that this stop occurred around 12:00-1:00 a.m. in the
morning. After approaching the plaintiff, Officer Whitebread
confiscated what he suspected was marijuana. Thereafter,
Officer Whitebread instructed the plaintiff to sit inside his
police vehicle. After getting another radio call, he asked
the plaintiff to get back into her own vehicle and wait for
him. Once inside her own vehicle, the plaintiff waited until
Officer Whitebread returned to her car. Officer Whitebread
then drove behind the plaintiff and followed her to her
entrance into her apartment, Officer Whitebread advised the
plaintiff that she could go to jail for the suspected
marijuana and that she could lose her job and car. The
plaintiff began crying. Officer Whitebread then asked,
“What are we going to do about this?” Officer
Whitebread thereafter left the plaintiff's apartment but
instructed her that he would return at 3:00 a.m. to check on
her, around two hours later.
Whitebread returned at 3:00 a.m. After looking around the
plaintiff's apartment, Officer Whitebread began touching
the plaintiff, which she interpreted as his desire to have
sex with her. The plaintiff described herself as being scared
that Officer Whitebread would hurt or kill her. Officer
Whitebread then engaged in sex with the plaintiff. She
described his belt and pistol as being close by at all times,
which increased her fear of harm. At no time did the
plaintiff give her consent to the sex that occurred. The
plaintiff described feeling trapped and powerless by the
situation. Officer Whitebread left the plaintiff's
apartment following this encounter without further incident.
It appears that he was fired from the department after this
incident, although there is no indication in the record why
or if it was related in any way to this incident.
addition to confirming the statements made in her affidavit,
during the hearing the plaintiff testified that she suffered
and continues to suffer from symptoms of emotional distress
due to the assault. In particular, the plaintiff testified
that after the event she began recalling memories of past
physical abuse from other relationships. She described being
afraid in her own home because Officer Whitebread knew where
she lived and might come back. She testified that she is now
afraid of the police and has experienced anxiety attacks when
seeing police officers. As she described it, she does not
know if they are “good” or “bad”
police officers. The plaintiff also testified concerning an
incident where she ran into Officer ...