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Fleckenstein v. Crawford

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 23, 2018

JEFFERY M. FLECKENSTEIN, Plaintiff
v.
ROSS W. CRAWFORD, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          KANE JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Plaintiff Jeffery M. Fleckenstein (“Plaintiff”)'s motion for default judgment against Defendant Ross W. Crawford (“Crawford”). (Doc. No. 74.) For the reasons stated below, the Court will deny the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         On June 4, 2014, Plaintiff initiated the above-captioned action by filing a complaint against Crawford, as well as Defendants Mary E. Sabol, Albert J. Sabol, the York County Prison Board of Inspectors, Dana M. Brienza, Kim McDermott, and Karen Eyster (collectively referred to herein as the “York County Defendants”). (Doc. No. 1.) On July 18, 2014, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint against Defendants. (Doc. No. 6.) All Defendants, with the exception of Crawford, filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint on July 23, 2014 (Doc. No. 8), which the Court granted in part and denied in part on October 1, 2015. (Doc. Nos. 31, 32.)

         After the parties proceeded to conduct discovery, Plaintiff filed a “request to the court for the entry of a default judgment” as to Crawford on June 21, 2016. (Doc. No. 44.) In support of this request, Plaintiff maintained that Crawford neither answered nor otherwise responded to the second amended complaint. (Id. ¶ 8.) On January 12, 2018, the Court denied Plaintiff's request as improvidently filed and ordered that the request be stricken from the record.[2] (Doc. No. 69.) In addition, the Court noted that Plaintiff and the York County Defendants requested a settlement conference before a Magistrate Judge (Doc. No. 68), but the Court declined to refer the case to a Magistrate Judge because Plaintiff had not indicated whether Crawford concurred in the request (Doc. No. 69).

         Following the Court's Order, Plaintiff filed a request for the entry of default against Crawford with the Clerk on January 23, 2018 (Doc. No. 70), and the Clerk entered default against Crawford on January 25, 2018 (Doc. No. 71). Plaintiff then filed the instant motion for a default judgment against Crawford on February 14, 2018 (Doc. No. 74), with a brief in support (Doc. No. 75). On February 28, 2018, the York County Defendants submitted a brief in opposition to Plaintiff's motion. (Doc. No. 77.) Five (5) days before the York County Defendants submitted their brief in opposition, Plaintiff submitted a letter to the Court indicating that he and the York County Defendants again requested a settlement conference before a Magistrate Judge (Doc. No. 76), which the Court granted on March 12, 2018 (Doc. No. 80).[3]

         A review of the docket reflects that, to date, Crawford has neither filed an answer nor otherwise responded to the amended complaint. Because the applicable deadline for Plaintiff to file a reply brief has passed, Plaintiff's motion for a default judgment against Crawford is ripe for disposition.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Default judgments are governed by a two-step process set forth under Rule 55 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. An entry of default by the Clerk of Court under Rule 55(a) is a prerequisite to a later entry of a default judgment under Rule 55(b). 10A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2682 (3d ed. 2007) (“Prior to obtaining a default judgment under either Rule 55(b)(1) or Rule 55(b)(2), there must be an entry of default as provided by Rule 55(a).”). Once the Clerk of Court has entered a default, the party seeking the default may then move the court to enter a default judgment under Rule 55(b)(2). Entry of default does not entitle a claimant to default judgment as a matter of right. 10 James Wm. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice § 55.31 (Matthew Bender ed. 2010). Indeed, it is well settled that decisions relating to the entry of default judgments are committed to the sound discretion of the district court. Emcasco Ins. Co. v. Sambrick, 834 F.2d 71, 74 (3d Cir. 1987).

         Three factors control the exercise of the district court's discretion in assessing whether default judgment should be granted following the entry of default: “(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 v. Giampapa, 210 F.3d 154, 164 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing United States v. $55, 518.05 in U.S. Currency, 728 F.2d 192, 195 (3d Cir. 1984)). Yet, if the defendant has been properly served but fails to appear, plead, or defend an action, a court may “enter a default judgment based solely on the fact that the default occurred, ” without considering the Chamberlain factors. Anchorage Assocs. v. Virgin Islands Bd. of Tax Review, 922 F.2d 168, 177 n.9 (3d Cir. 1990).

         “A finding that default judgment is appropriate, however, is not the end of the inquiry.” Martin v. Nat'l Check Recovery Servs., LLC, No. 12-1230, 2016 WL 3670849, at *1 (M.D. Pa. July 11, 2016). Prior to entering a default judgment, the Court must also determine whether the “unchallenged facts constitute a legitimate cause of action.” Wright et al., supra, at § 2688; Broad. Music, Inc. v. Spring Mount Area Bavarian Resort, Ltd., 555 F.Supp.2d 537, 541 (E.D. Pa. 2008) (“Consequently, before granting a default judgment, the Court must . . . ascertain whether the unchallenged facts constitute a legitimate cause of action, since a party in default does not admit mere conclusions of law.”) (citations omitted). In conducting this inquiry, “the well-pleaded, factual allegations of the complaint . . . are accepted as true and treated as though they were established by proof.” E. Elec. Corp. of N.J. v. Shoemaker Const. Co., 652 F.Supp.2d 599, 605 (E.D. Pa. 2009) (citation omitted). While the Court must accept as true the well-pleaded factual allegations of the complaint, the Court need not accept the moving party's factual allegations or legal conclusions relating to the amount of damages. Comdyne I, Inc. v. Corbin, 908 F.2d 1142, 1149 (3d Cir. 1990).

         III. DISCUSSION

         In support of his motion for a default judgment against Crawford, Plaintiff asserts that “[i]t is clear from the [deposition] transcript that Defendant Crawford should be held jointly and severally liable with the County Defendants to the Plaintiff for the Plaintiff's injuries.” (Doc. No. 75 at 3.) Further, Plaintiff states that pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2), the Court should enter a default judgment against Crawford, and that “[a]s Plaintiff's damages are not liquidated, it is further requested that the Court schedule a two day jury trial to determine the amount of damages to be assessed against Defendant Crawford.” (Id. at 3-4.)

         In opposition, the York County Defendants state that although the Court is permitted to enter a default judgment against Crawford under Rule 55(b)(2), the Court should deny Plaintiff's motion because: (1) they are not “jointly and severally liable with Crawford . . . as Plaintiff suggests in his brief” and (2) Plaintiff's request for a trial as to damages is premature because resolution of a dispositive motion filed by the York County Defendants “could significantly alter the claims and parties at trial.” (Doc. No. 77 at 2.) The York County Defendants maintain ...


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