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Raya v. Calbiotech

United States District Court, S.D. California

November 4, 2019

ROBERT RAYA, Plaintiff,
v.
CALBIOTECH, Defendant. CALBIOTECH, Counterclaimant,
v.
ROBERT RAYA, Counterdefendant.

          ORDER

          HON. WILLIAM Q. HAYES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The matter before the Court is the Motion for Dismissal Sanctions and Monetary Sanctions filed by Defendant Calbiotech, Inc. (ECF No. 21).

         I. BACKGROUND

         On November 19, 2018, Plaintiff Robert Raya, proceeding pro se, initiated this action by filing a Complaint against Defendant Calbiotech, Inc. (“Calbiotech”). (ECF No. 1). In the Complaint, Raya, a former employee of Calbiotech, alleges that Calbiotech violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1132, by failing or refusing to provide Raya with a summary plan description of Calbiotech's 401(k) profit sharing plan within thirty days of Raya's request. Raya seeks statutory penalties.

         On May 21, 2019, Calbiotech filed a Counterclaim against Raya. (ECF No. 14). Calbiotech alleges that by filing the Complaint, Raya breached a separation agreement Raya signed when he terminated his employment with Calbiotech. Calbiotech seeks declaratory relief, an order requiring Raya to pay back $12, 500 in severance pay Raya received from Calbiotech, and attorneys' fees and costs.

         On June 13, 2019, Raya filed a Motion to Dismiss Calbiotech's Counterclaim. (ECF No. 15). On August 15, 2019, the Court denied Raya's Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 17). On September 10, 2019, Calbiotech filed 1) a Motion to Compel Responses to Discovery and for Sanctions (ECF No. 20); and 2) the Motion for Dismissal Sanctions and Monetary Sanctions currently before the Court (ECF No. 21). In the Motion for Dismissal Sanctions, Calbiotech requests the Court dismiss Raya's Complaint and order monetary sanctions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(d)(3) for Raya's failure to respond to Calbiotech's Interrogatories. Calbiotech further requests the Court enter default judgment against Raya for Raya's failure to file an answer to Calbiotech's Counterclaim.

         On October 2, 2019, Raya filed an Answer to Calbiotech's Counterclaim. (ECF No. 26). On October 4, 2019, Raya filed a Response in Opposition to Calbiotech's Motion for Dismissal Sanctions. (ECF No. 28). In the Response, Raya requests the Court deny Calbiotech's Motion for Dismissal Sanctions and grant Raya leave to file his Answer to Calbiotech's Counterclaim. Raya contends that he believed an August 19, 2019, email from Calbiotech's attorney, Corey Schechter, stating that Schechter planned to file an ex parte motion seeking a two-month discovery deadline extension, meant that the case was in “a two-month delay.” (Id. at 2). Based on this mistaken belief, Raya “took the opportunity to focus on some personal matters that he could no longer neglect” and did not check his email until September 4, 2019. (Id.) Raya contends:

Mr. Raya opened his mail after 1 ½ weeks to find 2 messages from Mr. Schechter, 1 email from Judge Skomal's Chambers, 2 new Orders from the court, 1 Failure to Appear, and 1 new deadline[.] In the confusion and panic that ensued, Mr. Raya missed the Sep 9th deadline to Answer Calbiotech's Counterclaim.

(Id.).

         On October 8, 2019, Magistrate Judge Allison H. Goddard issued an Order granting in part and denying in part Calbiotech's Motion to Compel. (ECF No. 29). Judge Goddard ordered Raya to serve responses to Calbiotech's Interrogatories, Requests for Admission, and Requests for Production of Documents by November 5, 2019. Judge Goddard extended the fact discovery deadline as to Raya's responses until November 27, 2019.

         On October 10, 2019, Calbiotech filed a Reply in support of its Motion for Dismissal Sanctions. (ECF No. 30). Calbiotech withdrew its request for dismissal and monetary sanctions pursuant to Rule 37(d)(3). In the Reply, Calbiotech opposes Raya's request for leave to file his Answer to Calbiotech's Counterclaim. Calbiotech contends that Raya fails to show good cause for granting Raya's request to file his Answer. Calbiotech contends that Raya's failure to check his email until September 4, 2019, does not explain why Raya missed the September 9, 2019, deadline to answer the Counterclaim by more than three weeks. Calbiotech contends that, absent an extension of time, Raya's Answer is untimely and should be stricken. Calbiotech maintains its request the Court enter default judgment on the Counterclaim against Raya.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs the deadlines to file responsive pleadings. Rule 12(a)(4)(A) provides that, if the court denies a pre-answer motion, then the answering party must serve a responsive pleading “within 14 days after notice of the court's action.” Rule 55 sets forth a two-step process for obtaining default judgment against a non-responsive party. Eitel v. McCool, 782 F.2d 1470, 1471 (9th Cir. 1986). First, the clerk must enter a party's default. Id.; Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). An entry of default is appropriate “when a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend, and that failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). Once a party's default has been entered, provided certain conditions are met, the court has discretion to enter a default judgment. Eitel, 782 F.2d at 1471-72; Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b).

         Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a court may “strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” A district court further has “inherent power” to sanction a party by striking an answer. McCabe v. Arave, 827 F.2d 634, 639 n. 5, 640 (9th Cir. 1987). District courts have “inherent equitable powers to dismiss actions or enter default judgments for failure to prosecute, contempt of court, or abusive litigation practices.” TeleVideo Sys., Inc. v. Heidenthal, 826 F.2d 915, 916 (9th Cir. 1987). Issuing a terminating sanction is “very severe.” Conn. Gen. Life Ins. Co. v. New Images of Beverly Hills, 482 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2007) (quotation omitted). Striking an untimely answer or ...


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