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Strojnik v. The Victus Group, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 9, 2019

PETER STROJNIK, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
THE VICTUS GROUP, INC., d/b/a Sierra Sky Ranch Defendant.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS THAT PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT BE GRANTED IN PART (Doc. 11) OBJECTIONS DUE: 21 DAYS

          SHEILA K. OBERTO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On May 31, 2019, Plaintiff Peter Strojnik, Sr. filed a motion for default judgment[1] against Defendant The Victus Group, Inc. d/b/a Sierra Sky Ranch. (Doc. 11.) No opposition to Plaintiff's motion was filed. The Court has reviewed the motion and supporting documentation and determined that the matter was suitable for decision without oral argument pursuant to Local Rule 230(g). As such, the motion was deemed submitted on the papers and no hearing was scheduled.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court RECOMMENDS that Plaintiff's motion for default judgment be GRANTED IN PART and that Plaintiff be awarded the sum of $4, 447.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On November 8, 2018, Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging claims for negligence and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.; the California Unruh Act, California Civil Code § 51 et seq.; and the California Disabled Persons Act (“CDPA”), California Civil Code § 54 et seq. (Doc. 1.) The complaint seeks an award of statutory, compensatory and punitive damages, costs of suit, and injunctive relief.[2] Id. Plaintiff alleges that he “walks with difficulty and pain and requires compliant mobility accessible features, ” and uses a wheelchair, (Id. ¶¶ 4, 14), and the property that is the subject of this suit, Sierra Sky Ranch (“the Property”) presents numerous barriers that interfere with his ability to use and enjoy the goods, services, privileges, and accommodations offered at the facility (Id. ¶ 10).

         Defendant was served with the complaint on March 20, 2019. (Doc. 5.) To date, Defendant has not responded to the complaint.

         Plaintiff requested that the Clerk enter default against Defendants on May 13, 2019, (Doc. 7), which was entered on May 15, 2019. (Doc. 8.) On May 31, 2019, Plaintiff filed a motion for default judgment against Defendant, which is currently pending before the Court. (Doc. 11.)

         On June 3, 2019, the Court entered a minute order directing Defendant to file its response in opposition to the motion by no later than July 15, 2019, and allowing Plaintiff to file an optional reply brief by no later July 29, 2019. (Doc. 12.) The Court directed Plaintiff to file proof of service of the minute order on Defendant by June 15, 2019. (Id.) Plaintiff filed proof of service on June 18, 2019, stating that he served the minute order on Defendant's registered agent on June 13, 2019. (Doc. 14.) Defendant has not filed a response in opposition to the motion and no other pleadings were filed by the July 29, 2019 deadline.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b) permits a court-ordered default judgment following the entry of default by the clerk of the court under Rule 55(a). It is within the sole discretion of the court as to whether default judgment should be entered. See Aldabe v. Aldabe, 616 F.2d 1089, 1092 (9th Cir. 1980). A defendant's default by itself does not entitle a plaintiff to a court-ordered judgment. See Id. Instead, the Ninth Circuit has determined a court should consider seven discretionary factors, often referred to as the “Eitel factors, ” before rendering a decision on default judgment. See Eitel v. McCool, 782 F.2d 1470, 1471-72 (9th Cir. 1986). The Eitel factors include (1) the possibility of prejudice to the plaintiff, (2) the merits of the plaintiffs 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. See id.

         A plaintiff is required to prove all damages sought in the complaint. See Televideo Sys., Inc. v. Heidenthal, 826 F.2d 915, 917-18 (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).

         Finally, once the court clerk enters a default, the well-pleaded factual allegations of the complaint are taken as true, except for those allegations relating to damages. See Televideo Sys., Inc., 826 F.2d at 917.

         B. Analysis

         1. The Eitel Factors Weigh in Favor of Granting a Default Judgment

         a. Prejudice to Plaintiff if Default Judgment is Not Granted

         If default judgment is not entered, Plaintiff will effectively be denied a remedy until Defendant participates and makes an appearance in the litigation - which may never occur. Denying Plaintiff a means of recourse is, by itself, sufficient 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 (CD. Cal. 2003).

         b. Merits of Plaintiff's Substantive Claims and the Sufficiency of the Complaint

         The next relevant Eitel factors include an evaluation of the merits of the substantive claims pled in the complaint as well as the general sufficiency of the complaint. In weighing 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).

         1. Title III of 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. at § 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 ...


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