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Puckett v. Agboli

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 29, 2018

DURRELL ANTHONY PUCKETT, Plaintiff,
v.
A. AGBOLI, et al. Defendants.

          ORDER

          CRAIG M. KELLISON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, a prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court are plaintiff's motion for default judgment (Doc. 20), motion to enforce payment (Doc. 22), and motion for entry of default (Doc. 24). Also pending are defendants' motion for additional time (Doc. 28), and motions to set aside entry of default (Docs. 29, 32).

         I. Background

         Plaintiff filed his civil rights complaint on November 25, 2014. A waiver of service of summons was filed with this court, as to five of the defendants, on February 16, 2017 (Doc. 14), and as to defendant Agboli on March 2, 2017 (Doc. 15). The waiver of service of summons was sent to the defendants on January 24, 2017. Defendants Agboli, Dayson, Bulawin, Yaroch, Lius and Vallar each signed the waiver of service of summons. The waiver of service of summons was not signed by defendant Lynch. However, the summons was returned executed on May 26, 2017, indicating service on defendant Lynch was accomplished on April 12, 2017 (Doc. 26).

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(d)(3), a defendant is required to file an answer to the complaint within 60 days after the date the waiver of service was sent. In this case, that would have been on or before March 27, 2017. On March 22, 2017, plaintiff requested the entry of the defendants' default. That request was denied as the 60 days in which the defendants had to respond to the complaint had not yet expired. Plaintiff filed his second request for entry of default on April 6, 2017. As no appearance had been made by defendants Agboli, Dayson, Bulawin, Yaroch, Lius or Vallar, the request for entry of default was granted, and the Clerk of Court entered the default of defendants Agboli, Dayson, Bulawin, Yaroch, Lius and Vallar on April 10, 2017.

         On the same day, the court received plaintiff's motion for default judgment (Doc. 20), and a week later his motion to enforce payment (Doc. 22). On May 18, 2017, plaintiff filed his motion for entry of default as to defendant Lynch (Doc. 24). Those motions are currently pending.

         On June 6, 2017, defendant Lynch filed a motion for additional time to file a responsive pleading (Doc. 28). Defendants Dayson, Bulawin, Yaroch, Lius and Vallar then filed a motion to set aside the Clerk's entry of default (Doc. 29) on June 13, 2017. Defendant Agboli similarly filed a motion to set aside the Clerk's entry of default (Doc. 32) on July 7, 2017. Plaintiff filed his opposition to the motions to set aside the defaults, but no opposition to defendant Lynch's motion for additional time to respond.

         II. Motion to Set Aside Clerk's Entry of Default

         Rule 55(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for relief from an entry of default for “good cause shown.” An application under 55(c) to set aside a default is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court. Savarese v. Edrick Transfer and Storage, Inc., 513 F.2d 140, 146 (9th Cir. 1975). Because of the preference for deciding cases on their merits whenever possible, motions for relief from default entries should be viewed liberally, see Falk v. Allen, 739 F.2d 461, 463 (9th Cir. 1984), resolving all doubts in favor of the party seeking relief. See, e.g., Schwab v. Bullock's Inc., 508 F.2d 353, 355 (9th Cir. 1974); Butner v. Neustadter, 324 F.2d 783 (9th Cir. 1963).

         In considering a motion to set aside a clerk's entry of default pursuant to Rule 55(c), courts “uniformly consider” the factors relevant to a motion to set aside a default judgment, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b). 10 Wright and Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure (“Wright & Miller”), § 2694. In addition, the requirements are more liberally interpreted in motions to set aside the entry of default. Any of the reasons which are sufficient to justify relief under Rule 60(b) will justify relief under Rule 55(c). Id.

         A motion to set aside a default judgment under Rule 60(b) may be denied if: (1) the plaintiff would be prejudiced by granting it; (2) the defendant has no meritorious defense; or (3) the defendant's culpable conduct led to the default. Pena v. Seguros La Comercial, S.A., 770 F.2d 811 (9th Cir. 1985). Finally, although there is no express requirement of timeliness in Rule 55(c), the fact that a defaulted party acts quickly to cure the default and seek relief is viewed as a strong reason for the court to exercise its discretion to set aside the default. Wright & Miller, § 1698.

         In this case, the defendants contend they did not engage in culpable conduct that caused the default, they have a meritorious defense to this action, and plaintiff will not be prejudiced by the default being set aside. The defendants, who are current or former employees of the California Department of State Hospitals (DSH), Vacaville, all acknowledge receiving and signing the waiver of service. However, as explained in the motion, DSH-Vacaville personnel are not employees of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), even though they are working at the same facility. As a result, the Litigation Coordinator at California Medical Facility (CMF) is not authorized to accept service from the U.S. Marshal on behalf of DSH employees working at DSH-Vacaville. Communication between the Litigation Coordinator at CMF and the DSH-Vacaville Personnel Supervisor established the Personnel Supervisor would accept service for the current DSH employees (defendants Dayson, Bulawin, Yaroch, Lius and Vallar). The service packets were received by supervisors at DSH, signatures of the defendants were obtained, and the documents were returned to the supervisor and somehow were sent to the Marshal's office. However, there was a breakdown in communication as to what to do with the service documents, and the supervisors handling them were not experienced in the handling of the service of legal process on the employees. Further, the supervisors handling the service documents did not inform the individual defendants what was required in order for them to obtain representation from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), nor did the supervisors properly notify the OAG of this action and request representation.

         In the meantime, defendant Lynch, who is no longer a DSH employee, had been served separately.[1] She apparently notified the California Correctional Peace Officers Association and informed them of this action, who in turn contacted DSH Legal on her behalf on April 28, 2017. DSH Legal then inquired as to the status of the case, and learned plaintiff had already requested entry of default.

         Similarly, defendant Agboli acknowledges he received and signed his waiver, but he did not understand the process and ...


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