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Flynn v. Thibodeaux Masonry

March 30, 2004


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina, United States District Judge.

Document Nos. 21, 24




This matter comes before the court on the plaintiffs' motions for default judgment and for summary judgment. The plaintiffs, fiduciaries and trustees of the Bricklayers & Trowel Trades International Pension Fund (the"IPF"),*fn1 bring suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001 et seq., against the pro se defendants, Thomas Thibodeaux ("Thibodeaux"), Thibodeaux Masonry, and Thibodeaux Masonry, Inc. ("TMI") (collectively "the defendants") for delinquent pension contributions. Because TMI has not retained counsel, the court enters default judgment against TMI. Because the plaintiffs have identified an absence of evidence proffered by Thibodeaux and Thibodeaux Masonry regarding their delinquent contributions, the court grants summary judgment to the plaintiffs with regard to those defendants.


A. Factual Background

Thomas Thibodeaux and his wife Lura have run a masonry business in Louisiana since January of 1998. Pls.' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("SUF") ¶ 11.*fn2 Initially, the Thibodeauxs operated their masonry business through "Thibodeaux Masonry," a sole proprietorship. Id. On May 1, 1998, Thomas Thibodeaux, acting as president of Thibodeaux Masonry, signed a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") with the International Union of Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers ("the Union").*fn3 Id. ¶ 12. The CBA required Thibodeaux and Thibodeaux Masonry to make payments on behalf of his employees to the IPF, the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers ("BAC"), the International Health Fund ("IHF"), and the International Masonry Institute ("IMI"). Id. ¶¶ 13-14.*fn4 On May 4, 1999, Thibodeaux merged Thibodeaux Masonry into TMI. Id. ¶ 16. On May 1, 2000, Thibodeaux, acting as president of TMI, signed a second CBA on behalf of TMI that imposed the same payment requirements on TMI as the first CBA imposed on Thibodeaux Masonry. Id. ¶ 17. At some point after Thibodeaux had incorporated TMI, the plaintiffs requested an audit of Thibodeaux Masonry and TMI, which the payroll auditing firm of Guenther, Guenther & Gillane performed. Id. ¶¶ 34-35. The plaintiffs' allege that the audit and subsequent calculations revealed an outstanding delinquency of $68,945.18. Pls.' Mot. at 9; Stupar Supplemental Decl. ¶ 3.

B. Procedural Background

The plaintiffs filed their complaint on April 15, 2002. The defendants filed a motion to transfer venue on May 28, 2002. On October 28, 2002, the court denied the defendants' motion to transfer venue. Order dated October 28, 2002. Because it appeared that corporate defendants were proceeding pro se, on May 13, 2003, the court ordered the pro se corporate defendants to retain counsel, specifically warning that failure to comply could result in the court imposing default judgment as a sanction for non-compliance. Order dated May 13, 2003. On June 9, 2003, Thibodeaux responded to the court's order stating that TMI would not retain counsel. Defs.' Resp. to Order. On June 18, 2003, the plaintiffs filed a motion for default judgment against Thibodeaux Masonry and TMI. In the defendants' opposition to the motion for default judgment, the defendants clarified that only TMI was a corporation, but reiterated that TMI would not retain counsel. Defs.' Opp'n to Pls.' Mot. For Default J. ("Defs.' Default J. Opp'n") at 1. On July 11, 2003, the plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment against the defendants, recognizing that the motion would be moot if the court granted default judgment against either Thibodeaux Masonry or TMI. Pls.' Mot. For Summ. J. ("Pls.' Mot.") at 2 n.1. Given the defendants' pro se status, the court issued an order directing the defendants to respond to the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and providing notice of the consequences of a failure to file an opposition. Order dated Dec. 17, 2003.

Thus, the two motions currently before the court are: 1) the plaintiffs' motion for default judgment against Thibodeaux Masonry and TMI and 2) the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment against Thibodeaux Masonry, TMI, and Thomas Thibodeaux. The court now turns to those motions.


A. Legal Standard for Entry of Default Judgment For Failure to Comply With a Court Order Pursuant to Rules 37(b)(2)(C) and 16(f)

Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court may impose sanctions for failure to comply with various court orders. Under Rule 37(b)(2)(C), if a party "fails to obey an order to provide or permit discovery," the court may render judgment by default against the disobedient party. FED. R. CIV. P. 37(b)(2)(C). Under Rule 16(f), if a party "fails to obey a scheduling or pretrial order, or if no appearance is made on behalf of a party at a scheduling or pretrial conference," the court may, in its discretion, levy various sanctions against the disobedient party, including a Rule 37 judgment by default. FED. R. CIV. P. 16(f). Sanctions are integral to the operation of the judicial system. Bristol Petroleum Corp. v. Harris, 901 F.2d 165, 167 (D.C. Cir. 1990). As the D.C. Circuit has stated, sanctions"have been entrusted to the district courts to enable district judges to discharge efficiently their front-line responsibility for operating the judicial system." Id. (citing Rules 37 and 11 in upholding dismissal for a plaintiff's failure to appear at a status conference). The most severe sanctions "must be available to the district court in appropriate cases, not merely to penalize those whose conduct may be deemed to warrant such a sanction, but to deter those who might be tempted to such conduct in the absence of such a deterrent." Nat'l Hockey League v. Metro. Hockey Club, 427 U.S. 639, 643 (1976) (upholding the trial court's dismissal under Rule 37 for violations of pretrial discovery orders).

That said, a default judgment is a drastic sanction. Generally, the imposition of less severe sanctions, such as the award of attorney's fees, may be"sufficiently effective in alerting an irresponsible litigant to the seriousness of his or her neglect, protecting the interests of the other litigants in the case, and vindicating the integrity of the court." C.K.S. Eng'rs, Inc. v. White Mountain Gypsum Co., 726 F.2d 1202, 1209 (7th Cir. 1984). In those cases where a court orders a dismissal or enters a default judgment, the disobedient party typically has engaged in a pattern of noncompliance with court orders so that no lesser sanction is warranted. Secs. & Exch. Comm'n v. Hollywood Trenz, Inc., 202 F.R.D. 3, 7 (D.D.C. 2001) (citing 6A FED. PRAC. & PROC., § 1531). Accordingly, courts have granted default judgment when parties have not complied with court orders or have missed hearings. Eagle Assocs. v. Bank of Montreal, 926 F.2d 1305, 1310 (2d Cir.1991) (upholding entry of default judgment where a defendant partnership ignored a court order directing that it retain counsel).

B. Legal Standard for a Motion for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when"the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Diamond v. Atwood, 43 F.3d 1538, 1540 (D.C. Cir. 1995). To determine which facts are"material," a court must look to the substantive law on which each claim rests. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A"genuine issue" is one whose resolution could establish an element of a claim or defense and, therefore, affect the outcome of the action.

Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all justifiable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor and accept the nonmoving party's evidence as true. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. A nonmoving party, however, must establish more than"the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must show that the nonmoving party"fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. By pointing to the absence of evidence proffered by the nonmoving party, a moving party may succeed on summary judgment. Id.

In addition, the nonmoving party may not rely solely on allegations or conclusory statements. Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999); Harding v. Gray, 9 F.3d 150, 154 (D.C. Cir. 1993). Rather, the nonmoving party must present specific facts that would enable a reasonable jury to find in its favor. Greene, 164 F.3d at 675. If the evidence"is merely colorable, or is not significantly ...

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