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Candido v. District of Columbia

June 22, 2007



On January 24, 2006, the plaintiff commenced this action challenging the District of Columbia's ("District") sale of the plaintiff's vehicle without notice to him on the ground that the sale violated the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution. Complaint ("Compl.") ¶ 10. Currently before this Court is the District's Motion for Summary Judgment with supporting memoranda ("Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J.") and the plaintiff's Motion for Entry of Default Against Defendant ("Pl.'s Mot. for Default").*fn1 Upon consideration of the parties' motions, the Court concludes that both motions must be denied.

I. Background

In 2002, the plaintiff's car was stolen by an unknown person or persons. Compl. ¶ 4. At the time of the theft, the plaintiff's vehicle was subject to a purchase money security interest. Id. at ¶ 5. The plaintiff's vehicle was later recovered by the police department who refused to return it to him on the grounds that they "needed it as evidence." Id. at ¶ 6. In 2004, the police allegedly sold the vehicle without contacting the plaintiff, even though he had provided the police with his contact information. Id. at ¶¶ 7, 9. On January 24, 2006, the plaintiff brought this civil action against the District to recover money damages pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1343 for allegedly selling his car without providing him notice of the sale. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 10.

On February 14, 2006, the District filed a motion to dismiss this action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), claiming that the plaintiff's suit was based on negligence and thus did not amount to a federal due process claim. Defendant's Memorandum of Points and Authorities in support of Its Motion to Dismiss at 5-8. This Court disagreed, holding that a claim asserting that one's property was sold without notice to him does implicate the Due Process clause resulting in this Court having jurisdiction over the claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1343(a)(3). June 26, 2006 Order at 2. With the denial of that motion, this Court ordered the District to file an answer to the plaintiff's complaint by July 26, 2006. Id.

On July 26, 2006, however, the District filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that the plaintiff (1) failed to serve the proper District officials-- the Mayor and the Attorney General of the District of Columbia-- as required by Superior Court Rule of Civil Procedure 4(j) and (2) failed to satisfy the mandatory notice provisions of D.C. Code § 12-309 by not notifying the Mayor and Attorney General for the District of his claim.*fn2 Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 1, 6- 7, 9. In response, the plaintiff contends that (1) "any failure to give notice required by District of Columbia common law is not applicable to the plaintiff's federal claim," Pl's Opp'n to Summ. J. at 1, and (2) the District waived the defense of insufficient service of process. Id. at 2.

On August 16, 2006, three weeks after the District filed its motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff filed a motion for entry of a default against the District, claiming that the District's motion for summary judgment did not comply with the Court's order requiring the District to file a "responsive pleading." Pl.'s Mot. for Default at 1. And, the plaintiff characterizes the District's actions as a "willful" disregard of the Court's order. Pl.'s Reply for Default at 5. Further, the plaintiff maintains that the District's litigation tactic has delayed the progression of this case, which should thereby result in the entry of a default against the defendant. Id. at 2.

II. Standard of Review

A. Motion for Entry of Default under Rule 55

When a defendant fails to defend his case appropriately or otherwise engages in dilatory tactics, the plaintiff may invoke the court's power to enter a default judgment by first seeking the entry of a default. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(a); Peak v. District of Columbia, No. 05-1928, 2006 WL 1349219, at * 1 (D.D.C. May 17, 2006) (citing Keegel v. Key W. & Caribbean Trading Co., 627 F.2d 372, 375 n.5 (D.C. Cir. 1980)); see also, Jackson v. Beech, 636 F.2d 831, 836)(D.C. Cir. 1980) ("The default judgment must normally be viewed as available only when the adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party."). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for an entry of default "[w]hen a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought .has failed to plead or otherwise defend as provided by these rules."

Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(a). Once the clerk enters the default pursuant to Rule 55(a), Rule 55(b) authorizes either the clerk or the court to enter a default judgment against a defendant. Id. at 55(b).

Courts do not favor default judgments and will only resolve cases in this manner "when the adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party[, as] the diligent party must be protected lest he be faced with interminable delay and continued uncertainty as to his rights." Peak, 2006 WL 1349212 at *2 (quoting Jackson, 636 F.2d at 836 (citation omitted)). Accordingly, "[c]ases should be decided upon their merits whenever reasonably possible." Eitel v. McCool, 782 F.2d 1470, 1472 (9th Cir. 1986); see Peak, 2006 WL 1349219 at *2 (acknowledging the inherent unfairness of awarding judgment against a party for mere filing delays and not deciding the case on its merits).

B. Motion for Summary Judgment under Rule 56

Courts will grant a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56(c) "if the pleadings, deposition, 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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). When ruling on a summary judgment motion, courts must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Bayer v. U.S. Dep't of Treasury, 956 F.2d 330, 333 (D.C. Cir. 1992); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (holding that courts must draw "all justifiable inferences" in the nonmoving party's favor and accept the nonmoving party's evidence as true). However, "[t]he nonmoving party 'must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts,'" Bias v. Advantage Int'l., Inc., 905 F.2d 1558, 1561 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (quoting Matsushita Elc. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)), but rather must "provide evidence that would permit a reasonable [fact-finder] to find" in the non-moving party's favor. Laningham v. U.S. Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1242 (D.C. Cir. 1987). Thus, under Rule 56, "if a party fails 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," summary judgment is warranted. Hazward v. Runyon, 14 F. Supp. 2d 120, 122 (D.D.C. 1998) (citing Celotex Corp v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). Finally, in considering a motion for summary judgment, "the court . . . may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000).

III. Analysis

A. Plaintiff's Motion for Entry ...

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