United States District Court, E.D. California
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
KENDALL J. NEWMAN, Magistrate Judge.
On November 22, 2013, the United States commenced this action to (1) reduce to judgment outstanding unpaid assessments of federal income taxes (Form 1040) against defendants Ronald B. Porath and Marzella J. Porath for the tax years 2006, 2007, and 2008; (2) foreclose federal tax liens on real property located in El Dorado County, California; and (3) obtain a sale of such property. (ECF No. 1.)
Defendants were properly served by publication on May 11, 2014 in accordance with this Court's order dated April 8, 2014 (ECF No. 8), and an affidavit of publication and proof and statement of publication were filed with the Court on May 19, 2014. (ECF No. 9.) Upon the United States' request, the Clerk of Court then entered default against defendants on September 22, 2014. (ECF No. 12.)
The instant motion for default judgment followed on January 13, 2015, with a hearing noticed for February 19, 2015. (ECF No. 13.) After defendants failed to file an opposition to the motion in accordance with Local Rule 230(c), the motion was submitted on the record and written briefing without oral argument. (ECF No. 16.)
Having carefully considered the briefing and documentation in support of the motion for default judgment, as well as the applicable law, THE COURT FINDS AS FOLLOWS:
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 that 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). 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 the present case, the well-pleaded factual allegations of the complaint (ECF No. 1), together with the Declaration of Tim W. Lyons (a Revenue Officer with the IRS) and its corresponding exhibits (ECF No. 14), support the claims pled in the complaint and demonstrate that the United States is entitled to the relief requested in its complaint and motion for default judgment. In particular, the United States has shown that (a) it is entitled to reduce to judgment its tax assessments, including applicable interest and penalties, against defendants for the tax years of 2006, 2007, and 2008 in the amounts detailed in the Certificates of Assessment and the Lyons Declaration; (b) that defendants have property interests in certain real property located at 2278 Rainbow Road, #27, Meyers, California (the "Subject Property"); (c) that the United States has valid federal tax liens against the Subject Property based on the above-mentioned tax assessments for 2006-2008 to be reduced to judgment, as well as a June 27, 2013 amended final judgment that was entered in favor of the United States and against defendants in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, Case No. 1:11-cv-00901, ECF No. 82; and (d) that the United States is entitled to foreclose its federal tax liens against the Subject Property. Therefore, the United States' claims have merit and are sufficiently pled.
Furthermore, the other Eitel factors do not preclude the entry of default judgment in this case. The United States would plainly be prejudiced if a default judgment is not entered, because it would have no other recourse against defendants with regards to their federal tax liabilities. Additionally, the sums of money at stake, while significant, merely reflect defendants' accurately computed federal tax liabilities. Also, given defendants' failure to appear and the Clerk's entry of default, there is little possibility of a dispute concerning material facts, and there is no indication in the record that defendants' default was due to excusable neglect. Finally, the policy favoring decisions on the merits does not by itself preclude entry of default judgment, and is outweighed by the other Eitel factors.
Accordingly, for the reasons outlined above, IT IS HEREBY RECOMMENDED THAT:
A. The United States' motion for default judgment against defendants Ronald B. Porath and Marzella J. Porath (ECF No. 13) be GRANTED.
B. Judgment be entered in favor of the United States and against Ronald B. Porath in the amount of $16, 572.06, plus interest and other statutory additions from January 9, 2015, which represents the unpaid balance of the federal income tax liabilities assessed against Ronald B. Porath for the tax years 2006, 2007, and 2008, together with accrued but unassessed interest and other statutory additions, together with statutory interest and other additions accruing thereafter pursuant to 26 U.S.C. §§ 6601, 6621 & 6622, and 28 U.S.C. § 1961(c) until paid.
C. Judgment be entered in favor of the United States and against Marzella J. Porath in the amount of $17, 951.25, plus interest and other statutory additions from January 9, 2015, which represents the unpaid balance of the federal income tax liabilities assessed against Marzella J. Porath for the tax years 2006, 2007, and 2008, together with accrued but unassessed interest and other statutory additions, together with statutory interest and other additions accruing thereafter pursuant to 26 U.S.C. §§ 6601, 6621 & 6622, and 28 U.S.C. § 1961(c) until paid.
D. It be declared that the United States has valid and subsisting federal tax liens on all property and rights to property of Ronald B. Porath and Marzella ...