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Trujillo v. Singh

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 15, 2017

JOSE TRUJILLO, Plaintiff,
v.
BALVIR SINGH dba SUPER 7; DARSHAN SINGH; Defendants.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS, RECOMMENDING THAT PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT BE DENIED IN PART AND GRANTED IN PART (ECF No. 9)

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Jose Trujillo filed a Motion for Default Judgment against Defendants Balvir Singh dba Super 7 and Darshan Singh (collectively “Defendants”) (ECF No. 9.) Defendants did not file an opposition. The matter was taken under submission pursuant to Local Rule 230(g). Upon review of the evidence and the briefing, the Court recommends that Plaintiff's motion for Default be GRANTED IN PART.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed this action on October 31, 2016 (ECF No. 1.) He seeks damages and injunctive relief pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq.) (“ADA”), California Civil Code § 51 (“Unruh Civil Rights Act”), and California Health and Safety Code § 19959. Plaintiff, a disabled man who is substantially limited in his ability to walk and uses a wheelchair or cane for mobility, alleges that Defendants are the owners and operators of a business known as Super 7, located at 41304 Road 128, Orosi, California 93647. Plaintiff contends that when he visited the facility, he encountered barriers that interfered with his ability to use and enjoy the goods and services offered. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, statutory damages, attorney's fees, and costs.

         Defendants were served with the summons and complaint in November 2016 (ECF Nos. 4 and 5.) None of the Defendants filed an answer. Plaintiff requested entry of default and default was entered on January 9, 2017. (ECF Nos. 6 and 7.) Plaintiff filed the instant Motion for Default Judgment and seeks an award amount of $4, 000.00 in statutory damages and $5, 448.00 in attorney's fees and injunctive relief. (ECF No. 9-1, p. 9.) Despite being served with the motion, Defendants have not filed a Motion to Set Aside the Default, nor have they responded to the Motion for Default Judgment or otherwise appeared in this litigation. (ECF No. 10.) Defendants are not infants, incompetent persons, in the military serve or otherwise exempted under the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940. (ECF No. 9, p. 2.)

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2) outlines the requirements for a motion for default judgment:

(2) By the Court. In all other cases, the party must apply to the court for a default judgment. A default judgment may be entered against a minor or incompetent person only if represented by a general guardian, conservator, or other like fiduciary who has appeared. If the party against whom a default judgment is sought has appeared personally or by a representative, that party or its representative must be served with written notice of the application at least 7 days before the hearing. The court may conduct hearings or make referrals- preserving any federal statutory right to a jury trial-when to enter or effectuate judgment, it needs to: (A) conduct an accounting; (B) determine the amount of damages; (C) establish the truth of any allegation by evidence; or (D) investigate any other matter.

         Factors which may be considered by courts when exercising discretion as to the entry of a default judgment include: (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, 1471-1472 (9th Cir. 1986).

         A plaintiff is required to prove all damages sought in the complaint. See Televideo Sys., v. Heidenthal, 826 F.2d 915, 917-918 (9th Cir. 1992). In addition, any relief sought may not be different in kind from, or exceed in amount, what is demanded in the complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(c). If the facts necessary to determine the damages are not contained in the complaint, or are legally insufficient, they will not be established by default. See Cripps v. Life Ins., Co. Of N. Am., 980 F.2d 1261, 1267 (9th Cir. 1992). However, “[u]pon default, the well-pleaded allegations of a complaint relating to liability are taken as true.” Dundee Cement Co. v. Howard Pipe & Concrete Prods., Inc., 722 F.2d 1319, 1323 (7th Cir. 1983); TeleVideo Sys., Inc. v. Heidenthal, 826 F.2d 915, 917-18 (9th Cir. 1987).

         B. Analysis

         1. The Eitel factors weigh in favor of default judgment

         a. Possibility of prejudice to the plaintiff

          If default judgment is not entered, Plaintiff will effectively be denied a remedy until Defendants participate in the litigation, which may never occur. Denying Plaintiff a means of recourse is, by itself, enough to meet the burden imposed by this factor. See, e.g., Philip Morris, USA, Inc. v. Castworld Prods., Inc., 219 F.R.D. 494, 499 (C.D. Cal. 2003).

         b. The merits of plaintiff's substantive claim and the sufficiency of the complaint

         The next relevant Eitel factors include an evaluation of the merits of the substantive claims alleged in the complaint. To weigh these factors, courts evaluate whether the complaint is sufficient to state a claim that supports the relief sought. See Danning v.Lavine, 572 F.2d 1386, 1388 (9th Cir. 1978); see also DIRECTV, Inc. v. Huynh, 503 F.3d 847, 854 (9th Cir. 2007) (“[A] defendant is not held to admit facts that are not well-pleaded or to admit conclusions of law.”) (internal quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, the Court will examine each of Plaintiff's claims.

         i. The ADA

         Title III of the ADA provides that “[n]o individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability” in places of public accommodation. 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a). “Discrimination” is defined as a failure to remove “barriers . . . where such removal is readily achievable.” Id. § 12182(b)(2)(A)(iv); see also Chapman v. Pier 1 Imports (U.S.) Inc., 631 F.3d 939, 945 (9th Cir. 2011) (en banc). Where a barrier's removal is not “readily achievable, ” a public accommodation must make its facilities available through “alternative methods if such methods are readily achievable.” 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b)(2)(A)(v).

         “To prevail on a Title III discrimination claim, the plaintiff must show that (1) [he or she] is disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (2) the defendant is a private entity that owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation; and (3) the plaintiff was denied public accommodations by the defendant because of her [or his] disability.” Molski v. M.J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 730 (9th Cir. 2007). Further, “[t]o succeed on an ADA claim of discrimination on account of one's disability due to an architectural barrier, the plaintiff must also prove that: (1) the existing facility at the defendant's place of business presents an architectural barrier prohibited under the ADA, and (2) the removal of the barrier is readily achievable.” Parr v. L & L Drive-Inn Rest., 96 F.Supp.2d 1065, 1085 (D. Haw. 2000).

         According to the complaint, Plaintiff went to the facility and encountered barriers associated with parking spaces, uneven surface for parking, “the store entrance had a high threshold, which was difficult to maneuver a wheelchair over, ” insufficient clearances for wheelchairs, and the “transaction counter was too high” and “the area around it was obstructed, ” making it “difficult for Plaintiff to approach the counter and . . . pay for his purchase.” (ECF No. 1, ¶10.) The Complaint identifies approximately four separate “barriers.” Id. Plaintiff alleges that as a result of the barriers, he is deterred from visiting Super 7. He contends that the barriers are easy to remove, but Defendants have not altered the store to comply with accessibility standards. (ECF No. 1, pgs. 3-5.) Plaintiff has met his burden to state a prima facie Title III discrimination claim.

         ii. ...


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