United States District Court, E.D. California
SCOTT N. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
MAI LUU-TRUONG, et al., Defendants.
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
KENDALL J. NEWMAN, Magistrate Judge.
Presently before the court is plaintiff Scott N. Johnson's ("plaintiff") motion for default judgment against defendants Mai Luu-Truong and Billy Truong (collectively "defendants"). (Mot. for Default J., ECF No. 10.) The court heard plaintiff's motion for default judgment on its law and motion calendar on September 18, 2014. Attorney Dennis Price appeared at the hearing on behalf of plaintiff. No appearance was made by or on behalf of defendants. For the reasons stated below, the court recommends that plaintiff's motion for default judgment be granted, that judgment be entered in plaintiff's favor, and that plaintiff be awarded the requested damages and injunctive relief.
Plaintiff initiated this action on April 30, 2014, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, Cal. Civ. Code §§ 51 et seq., and California's Disabled Persons Act, Cal. Civ. Code §§ 54 et seq., and a claim for negligence. (See generally Compl., ECF No. 1.)
Plaintiff, who is affected by quadriplegia and uses a wheelchair and a specially configured van, alleges that defendants own, operate, manage, or lease an auto body shop named Advance Auto Body & Paint, which is located at 8130 Industrial Parkway, Sacramento, California. (Compl. ¶¶ 1-2.) Plaintiff alleges that defendants are liable for violations of the ADA, the Unruh Civil Rights Act, and the Disabled Persons Act, and for negligence because of architectural barriers to access at the business that plaintiff actually encountered, which consist of a lack of any handicap parking spaces, defendants' "pattern and practice of placing boxes and other items on the path of travel leading from the parking lot into the business office, " which "restrict[s] the accessible path of travel to less than 36 inches in width, " and door hardware at the business's entrance consisting of "a panel style handle that requires tight grasping or twisting of the wrist to operate." (Id. ¶¶ 9-11.) Plaintiff alleges that he first encountered these barriers when "[h]e went to the shop in December of 2013 and received an estimate for work." (Id. ¶ 12.) Plaintiff further alleges that he was again deterred by these barriers when "[h]e returned in January of 2014 to discuss his estimate." (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that he "experienced difficulty and discomfort" as a result of "encountering and dealing with the lack of... accessible facilities" at defendants' business. (Id. ¶ 13.) Finally, plaintiff alleges that defendants' failure to remove these barriers was intentional because the barriers were "intuitive and obvious" and "defendants exercised control and dominion over the conditions at this location" and "had the means and ability to make... change[s]" to these barriers. (Id. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, statutorily authorized money damages in an amount of $8, 000 pursuant to the Unruh Civil Rights Act,  and $2, 650 for the actual attorneys' fees and litigation costs that he has incurred in pursuing this action. (Id. at 7-8; Mot. for Default J. at 10.)
Affidavits of service filed by plaintiff reflect that on May 6, 2014, plaintiff, through a process server, effectuated service of process on both Mai Luu-Truong and Billy Truong at the address provided for Advance Auto Body & Paint. Plaintiff's process server served both defendants in person with the complaint, summons, and other documents. (See Affs. of Serv., ECF Nos. 4, 5.) On July 8, 2014, plaintiff requested that the Clerk of Court enter default against both defendants. (Reqs. for Entry of Default, ECF Nos. 6, 7.) On July 10, 2014, the Clerk of Court entered the default of both defendants. (Clerks Certs. of Entry of Default, ECF Nos. 8, 9.) In entering default, the Clerk of Court stated that it appeared from the record and papers on file in the action that both defendants were duly served with process, but failed to appear, plead, or answer plaintiff's complaint within the time allowed by law. (See id.)
On July 21, 2014, plaintiff filed a motion for default judgment against defendants and served a copy of the motion on both defendants by U.S. mail. (Cert. of Serv., July 21, 2014, ECF No. 10-13.) A review of the court's docket reveals that neither defendant has appeared in this action or filed a response to the motion for default judgment.
Plaintiff's motion for default judgment seeks statutory damages pursuant to the Unruh Civil Rights Act in the amount of $8, 000, which consists of minimum statutory damages of $4, 000 for each of two actual visits to the premises in question that resulted in discriminatory events. (See Mot. for Default J. at 6.) Plaintiff also seeks injunctive relief in the form of readily achievable property alterations that consist of providing the correct number and type of properly configured disabled parking spaces and an accessible route to an accessible entrance, all in accordance with the ADA and the Americans With Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines contained in 28 CFR Part 36. (See id. at 4-6.) Plaintiff further seeks $2, 650 is attorneys' fees and costs that he has incurred in the prosecution of this case. (See id. at 6.)
II. LEGAL STANDARDS
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55, default may be entered against a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought who fails to plead or otherwise defend against the action. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). However, "[a] defendant's default does not automatically entitle the plaintiff to a court-ordered judgment." PepsiCo, Inc. v. Cal. Sec. Cans , 238 F.Supp.2d 1172, 1174 (C.D. Cal. 2002) (citing Draper v. Coombs , 792 F.2d 915, 924-25 (9th Cir. 1986)). Instead, the decision to grant or deny an application for default judgment lies within the district court's sound discretion. Aldabe v. Aldabe , 616 F.2d 1089, 1092 (9th Cir. 1980). In making this determination, the court considers the following factors:
(1) the possibility of prejudice to the plaintiff, (2) the merits of plaintiff's substantive claim, (3) the sufficiency of the complaint, (4) the sum of money at stake in the action[, ] (5) the possibility of a dispute concerning material facts[, ] (6) whether the default was due to excusable neglect, and (7) the strong policy underlying the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure favoring decisions on the merits.
Eitel v. McCool , 782 F.2d 1470, 1471-72 (9th Cir. 1986). Default judgments are ordinarily disfavored. Id. at 1472.
As a general rule, once default is entered, well-pleaded factual allegations in the operative complaint are taken as true, except for those allegations relating to damages. TeleVideo Sys., Inc. v. Heidenthal , 826 F.2d 915, 917-18 (9th Cir. 1987) (per curiam) (citing Geddes v. United Fin. Group , 559 F.2d 557, 560 (9th Cir. 1977) (per curiam)); accord Fair Housing of Marin v. Combs , 285 F.3d 899, 906 (9th Cir. 2002). In addition, although well-pleaded allegations in the complaint are admitted by a defendant's failure to respond, "necessary facts not contained in the pleadings, and claims which are legally insufficient, are not established by default." Cripps v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am. , 980 F.2d 1261, 1267 (9th Cir. 1992) (citing Danning v. Lavine , 572 F.2d 1386, 1388 (9th Cir. 1978)); accord DIRECTV, Inc. v. Hoa Huynh , 503 F.3d 847, 854 (9th Cir. 2007) (stating that a defendant does not admit facts that are not well-pled or conclusions of law); Abney v. Alameida , 334 F.Supp.2d 1221, 1235 (S.D. Cal. 2004) ("[A] default judgment may not be entered on a legally insufficient claim."). A party's default conclusively establishes that party's liability, but it does not establish the amount of damages. Geddes , 559 F.2d at 560.
A. Appropriateness of the Entry of Default Judgment Under ...