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Trujillo v. Lakhani

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 8, 2017




         Currently before the Court is Plaintiff's amended motion for default judgement. Defendants have not filed an opposition to the motion and the time do so has expired.

         Oral argument on Plaintiff's motion was set for April 26, 2017. Counsel Zachary Best appeared telephonically for Plaintiff. Defendants did not appear at the hearing.



         Plaintiff is substantially limited in his ability to walk and must use a cane or wheelchair for mobility. (Compl. ¶ 8, ECF No. 1.) On or about July 16, 2016, Plaintiff went to Ivanhoe Mini Mart in Ivanhoe, California (“the facility”) where there was a narrow, raised walkway in front of the store entrance, with no ramp provided, and he was forced to wheel over the curb and then struggled to open the door while his wheelchair was positioned on the narrow walkway; the entry door was heavy, which made it even more difficult for Plaintiff to open without his wheelchair rolling off the narrow walkway outside the door; the aisles inside the store lacked sufficient clear width for Plaintiff's wheelchair to pass through and Plaintiff could not go down most of the aisles in the store, which prevented him from reaching items he wanted to purchase; and the transaction counter and the debit card reader on top of the counter were too high, making them hard for Plaintiff to reach. (Id. at ¶¶ 1, 10.) Plaintiff alleges that he will return to the facility once the barriers are removed. (Id. ¶ 12.) On January 12, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant action alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq.; California's Unruh Act, Cal. Civ. Code §§ 51 et seq.; and the California Health and Safety Code. (Id. at ¶¶ 16-46.)

         On January 19, 2017, Plaintiff served a copy of the summons and complaint on Defendants by leaving the documents with Jose Valencia, the individual who appeared to be in charge, at 15841 Avenue 328, Ivanhoe, California, and the documents were then mailed on January 23, 2017. (Proofs of Service, ECF Nos. 5, 6.) Defendants did not respond to the complaint and on March 7, 2017, Plaintiff filed a request for entry of default. (ECF No. 7.) On March 8, 2017, the Clerk of the Court entered default against Defendants. (ECF No. 8.) On March 21, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion for default judgment. (ECF No. 10.) At the request of the Court, Plaintiff filed an amended motion for entry of default judgment on March 27, 2017. (ECF No. 12.)



         Pursuant to Rule 55 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, unless a claim is for a sum certain or a sum that can be made certain by computation, a party must apply to the court for a default judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b). Upon entry of default, the complaint's factual allegations regarding liability are taken as true. Geddes v. United Financial Group, 559 F.2d 557, 560 (9th Cir. 1977); Garamendi v. Henin, 683 F.3d 1069, 1080 (9th Cir. 2012). However, the complaint's factual allegations relating to the amount of damages are not taken as true. Geddes, 559 F.2d at 560. Accordingly, the amount of damages must be proven at an evidentiary hearing or through other means. Microsoft Corp. v. Nop, 549 F.Supp.2d 1233, 1236 (E.D. Cal. 2008). “[N]ecessary facts not contained in the pleadings, and claims which are legally insufficient, are not established by default.” Cripps v. Life Ins. Co. of North America, 980 F.2d 1261, 1267 (9th Cir. 1992). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(c), “[a] default judgment must not differ in kind from, or exceed in amount, what is demanded in the pleadings.”

         Entry of default judgment is not a matter of right and it is within the discretion of the court whether default judgment should be entered. Shanghai Automation Instrument Co. v. Kuei, 194 F.Supp.2d 995, 999 (N.D. Cal. 2001); Eitel v. McCool, 782 F.2d 1470, 1471 (9th Cir. 1986). The Ninth Circuit has set forth the following factors for the court to consider in exercising its discretion:

(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, 782 F.2d at 1471-72.



         In the current application, Plaintiff seeks default judgment and requests monetary damages, injunctive relief, and attorney fees.

         A. Jurisdiction

         1. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and their power to adjudicate is limited to that granted by Congress. U.S v. Sumner, 226 F.3d 1005, 1009 (9th Cir. 2000). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, federal courts have original jurisdiction over “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. “A case ‘arises under' federal law either where federal law creates the cause of action or where the vindication of a right under state law necessarily turns on some construction of federal law.” Republican Party of Guam v. Gutierrez, 277 F.3d 1086, 1088 (9th Cir. 2002) (internal punctuation omitted) (quoting Franchise Tax Bd. v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 8-9 (1983) (citations omitted)). “[T]he presence or absence of federal-question jurisdiction is governed by the ‘well-pleaded complaint rule, ' which provides that federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint.” Republican Party of Guam, 277 F.3d at 1089 (citations omitted).

         Plaintiff brings this action alleging violations of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. Therefore, the Court has original jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343 for the ADA claims. In addition, the Court has supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367 for Plaintiff's related state law claims under the Unruh Act and the California Health and Safety Code.

         2. Service of Process

         Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure sets forth the requirements for the manner of service on an individual. Rule 4(e) states that an individual may be served by following state law for service of the summons in the state where the court is located or by personally delivering a copy of the summons and a complaint, leaving a copy of each at the individual's usual place of abode, or delivering a copy of each to an agent authorized to receive service. Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(e)(2).

         Section 415.20 of the California Code of Civil Procedure permits service by leaving the summons and complaint at the usual place of business in the presence of a person apparently in charge who is informed of the contents of the summons and thereafter mailing a copy of the summons and of the complaint to the defendant at that same place the summons and complaint were left. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 415.20.

         On January 19, 2017, Plaintiff served a copy of the summons and complaint on Defendants by leaving the documents with the person apparently in charge at their business address during regular business hours and informing the person of the general nature of the papers. (ECF Nos. 5, 6.) Plaintiff's counsel determined that Defendants' business address was the facility itself. (March 24, 2017 Declaration of Zachary Best (“Best Decl.”) at ¶ 15.) Prior to effectuating substituted service, service was attempted on January 17, 2017, and January 18, 2017. (ECF Nos. 5, 6.) Plaintiff then mailed the service documents on January 23, 2017, to the address where the summons and complaint were left.

         Therefore, the Court finds that service of process on Defendants was proper under California law.

         B. The Eitel Factors Weigh in Favor of Default Judgment

         As discussed below, consideration of the Eitel factors weighs in favor of granting default judgment in this instance.

         1. Possibility of Prejudice to Plaintiff

         The first factor weighs in favor of entry of default judgment. If default judgment is not entered, Plaintiff is effectively denied a remedy for the violations alleged in this action unless Defendants appear. Defendants may never appear in the action. Therefore, this factor weighs in favor of granting default judgment.

         2. The Merits of Plaintiff's Substantive Claims and Sufficiency of Complaint

         The court is to evaluate the merits of the substantive claims alleged in the complaint as well as the sufficiency of the complaint itself. In doing so, the court looks to the complaint to determine if the allegations contained within are sufficient to state a claim for the relief sought. Danning v. Lavine, 572 F.2d 1386, 1388 (9th Cir. 1978).

         a. Americans with Disabilities Act

         “An ADA plaintiff suffers a legally cognizable injury under the ADA if he is ‘discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, [or] facilities ... of any place of public accommodation.' ” Chapman v. Pier 1 Imports (U.S.) Inc., 631 F.3d 939, 952 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a)). As relevant here, discrimination is defined as “a failure to remove architectural barriers . . . where such removal is readily achievable.” 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b)(2)(A)(iv).

         “To prevail on a Title III discrimination claim, the plaintiff must show that (1) [he] 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 [his] disability.” Molski v. M.J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 730 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing 42 U.S.C. §§ 12182(a)-(b)). “To 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-In Restaurant, 96 F.Supp.2d 1065, ...

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