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Hopson v. Singh

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 10, 2019

CYNTHIA HOPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
SUKH C. SINGH, as an individual, as doing business as “Tokay Shell”, and as Trustee for the Sukh C. Singh 2006 Family Trust, PERMINDER K. SINGH, as an individual, and doing business as “Tokay Shell”, and Trustee for the Sukh C. Singh 2006 Family Trust, and DOES 1-10, inclusive, Defendants.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

          EDMUND F. BRENNAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This case is before the court on plaintiff Cynthia Hopson's motion for default judgment against defendants Sukh Singh and Perminder Singh.[1] ECF No. 15. For the reasons stated below, the motion should be granted.[2]

         I. Background

         Plaintiff filed this action against defendants Sukh Singh and Perminder Singh, alleging defendants violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq., the California Unruh Civil Rights Act (“Unruh Act”), and the California Disabled Persons Act (“CDPA”). Compl. (ECF No. 1). The docket reflects that defendants were served with a copy of the summons and complaint on March 8, 2017. ECF Nos. 4, 5. Despite being properly served, defendants have not responded to the complaint. Plaintiff requested entry of defendants' default, which the clerk entered on October 26, 2017. ECF Nos. 7, 9. Plaintiff now moves for default judgment on her ADA and Unruh Act claims. ECF No. 8. She seeks $4, 000 in statutory damages under the Unruh Act, as well as injunctive relief and attorneys' fees and costs. Id.

         According to the complaint, plaintiff is disabled due to her medical conditions, which include Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, Spinal Stenosis, Osteoarthritis, and Osteoporosis. Id. at 1 ¶ 1. She relies on the use of a mobility scooter to complete daily activities. Id. ¶ 6. Defendants own and operate a gas station located at 420 West Kettleman Lane, Lodi, CA, 95240. Id. ¶ 7. The gas station is a place of public accommodation. Id. ¶ 21. In 2016, plaintiff went to the gas station to shop and use its services. Id. ¶ 14. During the visit, she discovered that the designated disabled parking stall and its corresponding access aisle had a steep and improper slope in violation of the ADA. Id. ¶ 16. See 2010 ADA Accessibility Guidelines, § 502.4 (requiring parking spaces and access aisles to not have surface slopes exceeding 1:48 ratio, or 2.08 percent).

         Plaintiff now moves for default judgment, seeking $4, 000 in statutory damages under the Unruh Act, as well as injunctive relief and attorney's fees and costs. ECF No. 15.

         II. Discussion

         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 the 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). “In applying this discretionary standard, default judgments are more often granted than denied.” Philip Morris USA, Inc. v. Castworld Products, Inc., 219 F.R.D. 494, 498 (C.D. Cal. 2003) (quoting PepsiCo, Inc. v. Triunfo-Mex, Inc., 189 F.R.D. 431, 432 (C.D. Cal. 1999)).

         As a general rule, once default is entered, the factual allegations of the complaint are taken as true, except for those allegations relating to damages. TeleVideo Systems, Inc. v. Heidenthal, 826 F.2d 915, 917-18 (9th Cir. 1987) (citations omitted). However, although well-pleaded allegations in the complaint are admitted by 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). A party's default conclusively establishes that party's liability, although it does not establish the amount of damages. Geddes v. United Fin. Group, 559 F.2d 557, 560 (9th Cir. 1977) (stating that although a default established liability, it did not establish the extent of the damages).

         A. Americans with Disabilities Act

         Title III of the ADA provides that “[n]o individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.” 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a). Discrimination includes “a failure to remove architectural barriers . . . in existing facilities . . . where such removal is readily achievable.” Id. § 12182(b)(2)(A)(iv). Under the ADA, the term readily achievable means “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.” 42 U.S.C. § 12181(9).

         “To prevail on a Title III discrimination claim, the plaintiff must show that (1) [she] 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 her disability.” Molski v. M.J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 730 (9th Cir. 2007). Further, “[t]o succeed on a 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 ...


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