United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
PARADISE BAXTER DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for default
judgment against Defendants Michael DiPasquale, Robert J.
Catalde, James J. Fitzgerald, and Joseph M. Walsh [ECF No.
1, 2018, Plaintiff Zhaojin David Ke, initiated this civil
rights action by filing a pro se complaint pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Defendants Superior Court
of Pennsylvania, Western District (“Superior
Court”), Erie County Court of Common Pleas (“Erie
Court”), and Mary Richmond, an attorney who was
appointed by the Erie Court to serve as Master of
Plaintiff's divorce proceedings. For ease of reference,
the Superior Court and Erie Court will collectively be
referred to as the “Court Defendants.” On or
about June 1, 2018, Attorney Caroline Liebenguth
(“Liebenguth”) of the Administrative Office of
Pennsylvania Courts accepted service of the complaint on
behalf of the Court Defendants and subsequently filed a
motion to dismiss on their behalf on July 9, 2018 [ECF No.
14]. Apparently in response to this motion, Plaintiff filed a
first amended complaint [ECF No. 16] omitting his claims
against the Court Defendants. As a result, The Court
Defendants' motion to dismiss was denied as moot [ECF No.
20] and the Court Defendants were terminated from this case.
first amended complaint, Plaintiff maintained claims against
Defendant Richmond, and added claims against four new
Defendants: Michael DiPasquale, executive administrator of
the Superior Court (“DiPasquale”); Robert J.
Catalde, court administrator of the Erie Court
(“Catalde”); The Honorable James J. Fitzgerald, a
senior judge on the Superior Court
(“Fitzgerald”); and The Honorable Joseph M.
Walsh, a judge on the Erie Court (“Walsh”). On or
about July 31, 2018, Attorney Liebenguth executed waivers of
service on behalf of the four new Defendants [ECF Nos.
21-24]; however, she failed to enter her appearance for them
on the docket and did not file a timely answer on their
result, on October 12, 2018, Plaintiff requested entry of
default against Defendants DiPasquale, Catalde, Fitzgerald,
and Walsh [ECF No. 38], and default was subsequently entered
by the Clerk against said Defendants on October 15, 2018 [ECF
January 10, 2019, Plaintiff filed the instant motion for
default judgment [ECF No. 66]. Attorney Liebenguth has since
filed a response in opposition to Plaintiff's motion [ECF
No. 67], to which Plaintiff has filed a reply [ECF No. 68].
This matter is now ripe for consideration.
Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2) provides that a district
court may enter default judgment against a party when default
has been entered by the Clerk of Court. The entry of default
by the Clerk, however, does not automatically entitle the
non-defaulting party to a default judgment. Hritz v. Woma
Corp., 732 F.2d 1178, 1180 (3d Cir. 1984);
D'Onofrio v. Il Mattino, 430 F.Supp.2d 431, 437
(E.D. Pa. 2006). Rather, the entry of default judgment is a
matter within the sound discretion of the district court.
Hritz, 732 F.2d at 1180. In deciding whether to
enter default judgment, the court is required to consider
three factors: “(1) prejudice to the moving party 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, taken willfully and in bad
faith.” Sentry Select Ins. Co. v. LBL Skysystems
(U.S.A.), Inc., 486 F.Supp.2d 496, 502 (E.D.Pa.2007),
citing Chamberlain v. Giampapa, 210 F.3d 154, 164
exercising its discretion, the district court must keep in
mind the stated preference of the court of appeals,
“that cases be disposed of on the merits whenever
practicable.” Id., quoting Hritz, 732
F.2d at 1180; see also Hill v. Williamsport
Police Dep't, 69 Fed.Appx. 49, 51 (3d Cir.2003)
(“Our Court does not favor entry of defaults or default
judgments ... as it prefers adjudications on the
merits.”). “Because we disfavor default
judgments, doubts as to whether a defendant should be
permitted to file an untimely answer should be resolved in
favor of allowing a determination on the merits.”
Willaman v. Erie Satellite Office of the Bureau of
Alcohol, 2014 WL 11474846, at *1 (W.D. Pa. Jul. 28,
2014), citing Gross v. Stereo Component Systems,
Inc., 700 F.2d 120, 122 (3d Cir. 1983); Budget
Blinds, Inc. v. White, 536 F.3d 244, 258 (3d Cir. 2008);
Lorenzo v. Griffith, 12 F.3d 23, 27 n.4 (3d Cir.
Attorney Liebenguth represents that her failure to file a
timely answer on behalf of Defendants DiPasquale, Catalde,
Fitzgerald, and Walsh, was solely attributable to her error
in mistakenly marking this case closed after the Court
Defendants were dismissed, and then “fail[ing] to
calendar that responses were due on behalf of the newly added
defendants” after she accepted service of the amended
complaint on their behalf. (ECF No. 67, at p. 2). Although
regrettable, this explanation warrants against a finding that
the default was done willfully and in bad faith. Moreover,
Attorney Liebenguth has propounded a number of litigable
defenses available to the Defendants, some or all of which
appear to have merit, despite Plaintiff's objections to
the contrary. These proposed defenses include Eleventh
Amendment immunity, absolute judicial immunity, the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the Declaratory Judgment Act, and
the Domestic Relations exception to federal jurisdiction.
Finally, Plaintiff has failed to show how he would be
prejudiced by the denial of default judgment in this case,
especially considering that his most recent amended complaint
was filed on December 12, 2018, two months after default was
entered against these Defendants and only one month before
the filing of the instant motion. All of these factors weigh
in favor of denying default judgment and adjudicating this
case on the merits.
NOW, THEREFORE, this 17th day of July, 2019, IT IS HEREBY
ORDERED that Plaintiffs motion for default judgment against
Defendants DiPasquale, Catalde, Fitzgerald, and Walsh [ECF
No. 66], is DENIED, and it is FURTHER ORDERED that said
Defendants shall file a response to Plaintiffs second ...