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Walter L. Pearson v. Duke

February 19, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael J. Seng United States Magistrate Judge




Plaintiff Walter L. Pearson ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His case proceeds on his December 29, 2003, First Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 10.) The Court found that that complaint stated a cognizable Eighth Amendment claim against Defendants Jones and Smith and ordered service. (ECF Nos. 12 & 16.) Service was eventually effectuated on Defendant Jones on July 22, 2010.*fn1 (ECF No. 46.) Defendant Jones did not file an answer or other responsive pleading, but in several documents filed with the Court questioned her alleged involvement in the case. (ECF Nos. 46, 57, & 58.) On September 22, 2010, the Court issued an order that she show cause why default should not be entered against her; she did not respond. (ECF No. 47.) The Court ordered the Clerk to enter default against Defendant Jones. (ECF No. 53.) Default was entered on November 15, 2010. (ECF No. 54.)

On January 3, 2011, Defendant Jones filed a Motion to Set Aside the Entry of Default. (ECF No. 60.) Plaintiff filed an Opposition on January 13, 2011. (ECF No. 62.)


Rule 55(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that the Clerk of the Court enter default "when a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend, and that failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise." Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(a). Rule 55(b)(2) provides that the Court may grant a default judgment after default has been entered by the Clerk of the Court. Rule 55(c) provides that a court may set aside a default for "good cause shown." Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(c).

"The [Rule 55] good cause analysis considers three factors: (1) whether [Defendant] engaged in culpable conduct that led to the default; (2) whether [Defendant] had a meritorious defense; or (3) whether reopening the default judgment would prejudice [Plaintiff]." Franchise Holding II, LLC v. Huntington Rest. Group, Inc., 375 F.3d 922, 925-26 (9th Cir. 2004) (quotation omitted). The Court has discretion to determine whether good cause has been shown, see Haw. Carpenters' Trust Funds v. Stone, 794 F.2d 508, 513 (9th Cir. 1986). That discretion is to be generous where the motion seeks to set aside entry of default rather than default judgment. United States v. Signed Personal Check No. 730 of Yubran S. Mesle, 615 F.3d 1085, 1091 n.1 (9th Cir. 2010) (hereafter "Mesle"). Any doubt should be resolved in favor of setting aside the default in order to decide cases on their merits. Schwab v. Bullock's Inc., 508 F.2d 353, 355 (9th Cir. 1974). In determining whether to enter default judgment, a court considers the three "good cause" factors, as well as the amount of money at stake, the sufficiency of the complaint, the possibility of disputes as to material facts, and the public policy favoring resolutions of cases on the merits. See Eitel v. McCool, 782 F.2d 1470, 1471-72 (9th Cir. 1986). "[T]he general rule disfavors default judgments. Cases should be decided upon their merits whenever reasonably possible." Id. at 1472.


In her Motion, Defendant Jones argues for the entry of default to be set aside based on the following:

A. Good Cause

"[A] defendant's conduct is culpable if he has received actual or constructive notice of the filing of the action and intentionally failed to answer." TCI Group Life Ins. Plan v. Knoebber, 244 F.3d 691, 697 (9th Cir. 2001); see also id. at 698 ("[W]e have typically held that a defendant's conduct was culpable . . . where there is no explanation of the default inconsistent with a devious, deliberate, willful, or bad faith failure to respond.").

Defendant Jones states that she contacted the Court on three occasions to question whether she was the correct "MTA Jones" upon whom service had been ordered. (She doubted she was because she rarely worked at the facility where the alleged offense occurred, she could find no record of her having been there on the day in question and there was another "MTA Jones" who did work there. (ECF Nos. 46, 57, & 58; ECF No. 60-3, Def.'s Decl. ¶ 3.) Defendant Jones believed that these contacts were sufficient to serve as a response to the Complaint. (ECF No. 60-3, Def.'s Decl. ¶ 4.)

Plaintiff responds that he is not claiming Jones worked at the specific facility regularly, only that she was working there on the day of the violation. He further contends that she was afforded ample notice and ...

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