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Doe v. Whitebread

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 14, 2017

JANE DOE, Plaintiff
v.
SHAWN WHITEBREAD, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

          Malachy E. Mannion United States District Judge

         Currently 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 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 individual capacity.

         The 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).

         On 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).

         II. THE MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT

         Federal 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).

         Although 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.

         A. Findings of Fact[1]

         On the 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 apartment.

         Upon 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.

         Officer 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.

         In 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 ...


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