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Johnson v. Express Auto Clinic, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 9, 2019

SCOTT JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
EXPRESS AUTO CLINIC, INC., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT RE: DKT. NO. 55

          KANDIS A WESTMORE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Scott Johnson filed the instant suit against Defendants Express Auto Clinic, Inc., Abdulnasser Alsumairi, and Waled Aydeh, asserting violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Unruh Civil Rights Act. (Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) On April 5, 2019, Plaintiff filed a motion for default judgment as to Defendants Express Auto Clinic, Inc. and Aydeh (collectively, “Defendants”).[1] (Plf.'s Mot. for Default Judgment, Dkt. No. 55.) The Court held a hearing on June 6, 2019, at which Defendants failed to appear. (Dkt. No. 65.) On June 13, 2019, Plaintiff filed a supplemental brief regarding attorney's fees. (Dkt. No. 66.)

         Having considered the filings and the relevant legal authority, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Plaintiff's motion for default judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is a C-5 quadriplegic who cannot walk and uses a wheelchair for mobility. (Compl. ¶ 1; Johnson Decl. ¶ 2, Dkt. No. 55-4.) Plaintiff has a disabled persons parking placard issued by the State of California, and drives a specially equipped and modified van that deploys a ramp so that he can wheel in and out of his vehicle. (Compl. ¶ 1; Johnson Decl. ¶ 3.) Because Plaintiff uses a ramp and needs to transition from his van to the parking access aisle, Plaintiff requires a properly configured van accessible parking space with a level access aisle. (Johnson Decl. ¶ 4.)

         In May 2017, July 2017, October 2017, and December 2017, Plaintiff visited the Valero Gas Station at 3810 Broadway, Oakland, California to buy gas and snacks. (Compl. ¶ 16; Johnson Decl. ¶ 5.) The real property is owned by Defendant Express Auto Clinic, Inc., and Defendants Alsumairi and Ayedh own the Valero gas station. (Compl. ¶¶ 2-11.)

         Although there was a parking space reserved for persons with disabilities, Plaintiff asserts that the parking space did not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (“ADAAG”) during his visits. (Compl. ¶ 19; Johnson Decl. ¶ 6.) Specifically, there was no “No Parking” warning in the adjacent access aisle. (Compl. ¶ 20.) Additionally, the access aisle was not painted blue. (Johnson Decl. ¶ 6.) Each time Plaintiff visited, there were cars parked in the access aisle or in the parking space that did not have handicap placards. (Johnson Decl. ¶ 6.)

         Inside the gas station, the path of travel in and throughout the merchandise aisles was not accessible because Defendants would place merchandise and merchandise display on the route of travel, narrowing the route of travel to less than 36 inches. (Compl. ¶ 27.) As a result, Plaintiff was unable to fit his wheelchair down the merchandise aisles. (Compl. ¶ 33; Johnson Decl. ¶ 7.) Additionally, the transaction counter was 38 inches high, with no portion lowered to 36 inches. (Compl. ¶¶ 29-32.)

         On January 9, 2018, an investigator went to the Valero gas station, and found that there was no “No Parking” warning in the access aisle next to the handicapped parking space. (Louis Decl. ¶¶ 2-3, Dkt. No. 55-5.) The investigator also found that inside the Valero gas station, the path of travel was as narrow as 31 inches, and that the transaction counter was 38 inches high. (Louis Decl. ¶¶ 4-5.)

         On January 21, 2018, Plaintiff filed the operative complaint, asserting violations of the ADA and Unruh Civil Rights Act. (See Compl.) On February 11, 2018, Defendant Express Auto Clinic, Inc. was served by substitute service. Specifically, on January 25, 2018, the summons and complaint were left by a registered process server with Defendant Express Auto Clinic, Inc.'s agent of service by leaving the papers with the manager. (Dkt. No. 9 at 1.) The summons and complaint were then mailed on February 1, 2019.[2] (Id. at 3.) On February 16, 2018, Defendant Ayedh was served by substitute service after two prior unsuccessful attempts. Specifically, on February 1, 2019, the summons and complaint were left by a registered process server with a cashier at Defendant Ayedh's usual place of business. (Dkt. No. 10 at 1.) The summons and complaint were then mailed on February 6, 2018. Id. at 4.)

         Defendant Express Auto Clinic, Inc.'s answer was due on March 5, 2018, and Defendant Ayedh's answer was due on March 9, 2018. On March 7, 2018, Plaintiff moved for entry of default as to Defendant Express Auto Clinic, Inc. (Dkt. No. 14.) On March 9, 2018, the Clerk of the Court entered default against Defendant Express Auto Clinic, Inc. (Dkt. No. 16.) On March 12, 2018, Plaintiff moved for entry of default as to Defendant Ayedh. (Dkt. No. 17.) On March 16, 2018, the Clerk of the Court entered default against Defendant Ayedh. (Dkt. No. 18.) On October 3, 2018, counsel filed consents to magistrate judge jurisdiction on behalf of Defendants Express Auto Clinic, Inc. and Ayedh. (Dkt. No. 38 (“CONSENT/DECLINATION to Proceed Before a U.S. Magistrate Judge by Abdulnasser Alsumairi, Waled Ayedh, Express Auto Clinic, Inc.”).) Defendants Express Auto Clinic, Inc. and Ayedh, however, never moved to set aside entry of default.

         On April 5, 2019, Plaintiff filed a motion for default judgment against Defendants, seeking $4, 000 in statutory damages and $6, 708 in attorney's fees and costs. That same day, Plaintiff mailed the motion to Defendants. (Dkt. No. 58 at 2.) Counsel for Defendants also received notice of the filing through the Court's electronic filing system. As of the date of this order, Defendants have not responded.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2) permits a court to enter a final judgment in a case following a defendant's default. Shanghai Automation Instrument Co. v. Kuei, 194 F.Supp.2d 995, 999 (N.D. Cal. 2001). Whether to enter a judgment lies within the court's discretion. Id. (citing Draper v. Coombs, 792 F.2d 915, 924-25 (9th Cir. 1986)).

         Before assessing the merits of a default judgment, a court must confirm that it has subject matter jurisdiction over the case and personal jurisdiction over the parties, as well as ensure the adequacy of service on the defendant. See In re Tuli, 172 F.3d 707, 712 (9th Cir. 1999). If the court finds these elements satisfied, it turns to the following factors (“the Eitel factors”) to determine whether it should grant a default judgment:

(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 decision on the merits.

Eitel v. McCool, 782 F.2d 1470, 1471-72 (9th Cir. 1986) (citation omitted). Upon entry of default, all factual allegations within the complaint are accepted as true, except those allegations relating to the amount of damages. TeleVideo Sys., Inc. v. Heidenthal, 826 F.2d 915, 917-18 (9th Cir. 1987). Where a default judgment is granted, the scope of relief “must not differ in kind from, or exceed in amount, what is demanded in the pleadings.” Fed. R. Civ. 54(c).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Jurisdictional Requirements

         In considering whether to enter default judgment, a district court must first determine whether it has jurisdiction over the subject matter and the parties to the case. In re Tuli, 172 F.3d at 712 (“When entry of judgment is sought against a party who has failed to plead or otherwise defend, a district court has an affirmative duty to look into its jurisdiction over both the subject matter and the parties”). In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges a violation of a federal statute, the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. The Court thus has subject matter jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331(a).

         The Court has personal jurisdiction over Defendant Express Auto Clinic, Inc. as it is a California corporation. (See Compl. at 1; Mot. for Default Judgment, Exh. 5 at 3, Dkt. No. 55-7.) The Court also has personal jurisdiction over Defendant Ayedh, who resides in Daly City, California, and owns and operates a California business located in Oakland, California. (Mot. for Default Judgment, Exh. 5 at 14; Compl. ¶¶ 7-11; Dkt. No. 10.) Venue is also proper because the real property where the violation occurred is located in this district. (Compl. ¶¶ 2, 16.)

         Finally, service of process was proper. The case was filed on January 21, 2018, and Defendants Express Auto Clinic and Ayedh were served by substitute service. (Dkt. Nos. 9-10.) The proof of service of the complaint and summons were filed on February 13 and February 18, 2018. (Id.) Defendant Express Auto Clinic's default was entered on March ...


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