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Johnson v. Lee

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 23, 2018

CHAE SUN LEE, et. al., Defendants.



         Before the court is plaintiff Scott Johnson's motion for default judgment against defendants Chae Sun Lee and Mihn Tam Hoang. (ECF No. 12.) Defendants failed to file an opposition to the motion for default judgment in accordance with Local Rule 230(c). Accordingly, the hearing on the motion set for May 2, 2018 was vacated and defendants were given additional time to respond to the motion. (ECF No. 14.) Defendants were advised that failure to timely respond would result in a recommendation that default be entered against them. (Id.) Defendants have not timely responded.

         The undersigned has fully considered the briefs and record in this case and, good cause appearing, THE COURT FINDS AS FOLLOWS:

         I. Background

         Plaintiff initiated this action on November 2, 2017, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Unruh Civil Rights Act. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff is a level C-5 quadriplegic who cannot walk, has significant manual dexterity impairments, and uses a wheelchair and a specially-equipped van. (Id. at 1.) He alleges that defendant Lee owned real property at or about 5017 and 5037 Stockton Blvd. in Sacramento, California in 2015, 2016 and 2017; and that defendant Hoang owned the New Star Massage located at 5037 Stockton Blvd in Sacramento, California in 2015, 2016, and 2017. (Id. at 1-2.)

         Plaintiff alleges that he went to Long Island Ice Cream and New Star Massage (collectively “Property”), located at 5037 Stockton Blvd., on a number of occasions during the relevant statutory period in 2015, 2016, and 2017.[1] (Id. at 3.) He alleges there were no ADA-compliant parking spaces during his visits and that the two parking spaces reserved for persons with disabilities and their access aisles “were faded beyond recognition.” (Id. at 4.) One parking space displayed “Van Accessible” signage, while the other displayed no signage, and neither space displayed the required minimum fine and tow-away signage. (Id.) Both had faded accessibility logos in the parking stall. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that the defendants allowed these previously reserved parking spaces to fade and become unusable, such that “vehicles park in these parking spaces and access aisles with impunity.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff further alleges that outdoor tables at Long Island Ice Cream had table legs which did not allow for the proper toe clearance for wheelchair users. (Id. at 5.) He alleges that the entrance door to Long Island Ice Cream and New Star Massage was a “pull bar style handle that required tight grasping to operate” and that the transaction counters at both businesses were more than 36 inches high; they were 39 and 42 inches high, respectively. (Id.) There were no lowered portion of the counters for use by persons with disabilities. (Id. at 5-6.) Plaintiff alleges that he personally encountered these barriers during each of his visits in 2015, 2016 and 2017. (Id. At 6.) He alleges that he would like to return and patronize the businesses at the Property but will be deterred until the ADA-noncompliant barriers cease to exist. (Id. at 6-7.) Plaintiff maintains that defendants had the means and ability to remove these barriers to access. (Id. at 8.) Plaintiff's complaint seeks injunctive relief; statutory damages; and attorneys' fees and costs. (Id. at 12.)

         Defendants Lee and Hoang were properly served with process in December 2017 and January 2018. (ECF Nos. 4 & 7.) Defendants failed to appear, plead, or answer the complaint, and plaintiff moved for entry of judgment against each. (See ECF Nos. 5 & 8.) The Clerk entered default against Lee on December 28, 2017 and against Hoang on January 19, 2018. (ECF Nos. 6 & 9.) Thereafter, plaintiff brought the pending motion for default judgment against Lee and Hoang, through which he seeks injunctive relief for removal of unlawful architectural barriers pursuant to the ADA; statutory damages pursuant to California's Unruh Civil Rights Act; and attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to the ADA and California's Unruh Civil Rights Act. (ECF Nos. 12-1 & 12-3.)


         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 does not establish the amount of damages. Geddes, 559 F.2d at 560.


         A. Appropriateness of the Entry of Default Judgment Under the Eitel Factors

         1. Factor One: Possibility of ...

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