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Wondie v. Mekuria

October 4, 2010


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

Re Document No.: 7




This matter is before the court on the plaintiff's motion for default judgment. The plaintiff, an artist of Ethiopian origin, commenced this action for copyright infringement under the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101 et seq., claiming that the defendant produced and sold unauthorized copies of one of his copyrighted paintings. The defendant has not responded to the plaintiff's complaint or otherwise participated in this litigation. For the reasons discussed below, the court grants the plaintiff's motion for default judgment and awards him injunctive and monetary relief.


The plaintiff is an artist of Ethiopian origin whose paintings center on his Ethiopian heritage and have been exhibited internationally. Compl. ¶¶ 9-10. He is the creator of an original painting titled "Meskelathe Beza" ("the Painting"), for which he owns a registered United States copyright. Id. ¶ 1, Ex. B. The defendant is the owner of a store located in the District of Columbia that sells Ethiopian food, clothing, music and art. Id. ¶ 5. In 1993, the defendant purchased a set of poster prints of the Painting, at ten dollars per print, for the purposes of reselling them at her store. Id. ¶ 2; Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 5. Each print contained a copyright notice. Compl. ¶ 13. Between 1993 and 2003, the defendant occasionally bought more prints from the plaintiff to replenish her supply. Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 6.

In May 2006, the plaintiff visited the defendant's store and observed at least fifteen unauthorized copies of the Painting on sale for seven to ten dollars. Id. ¶ 9. The unauthorized copies did not contain the plaintiff's copyright notice. Compl. ¶ 13. The plaintiff purchased one unauthorized copy of the Painting at the defendant's store for seven dollars. Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 9; Pl.'s Mot., Ex. D.

On April 6, 2009, the plaintiff filed a complaint against the defendant for copyright infringement. See generally Compl. The plaintiff served the defendant on April 29, 2009 by leaving a copy of the summons and complaint with the defendant's husband at her residence. Pl.'s Aff. of Serv. Because the defendant failed to appear, plead or otherwise defend herself in this action, the Clerk of the Court entered default against the defendant on September 4, 2009. Entry of Default (Sept. 4, 2009). On May 10, 2010, the plaintiff filed this motion for default judgment, seeking a permanent injunction and monetary damages. See generally Pl.'s Mot. Despite being served with a copy of this motion, the defendant has failed to respond.


A. Legal Standard for Entry of Default Judgment Under Rule 55(b)(2)

A court has the power to enter default judgment when a defendant fails to defend its case appropriately or otherwise engages in dilatory tactics. Keegel v. Key W. & Caribbean Trading Co., 627 F.2d 372, 375 n.5 (D.C. Cir. 1980). Rule 55(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for 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). Upon request of the party entitled to default, Rule 55(b)(2) authorizes the court to enter against the defendant a default judgment for the amount claimed and costs. Id. 55(b)(2).

Because courts strongly favor resolution of disputes on their merits, and because "it seems inherently unfair" to use the court's power to enter judgment as a penalty for filing delays, modern courts do not favor default judgments. Jackson v. Beech, 636 F.2d 831, 835 (D.C. Cir. 1980). Accordingly, default judgment usually is available "only 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." Id. at 836 (quoting H. F. Livermore Corp. v. Aktiengesellschaft Gebruder Loepfe, 432 F.2d 689, 691 (D.C. Cir. 1970)).

Default establishes the defaulting party's liability for the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint. Adkins v. Teseo, 180 F. Supp. 2d 15, 17 (D.D.C. 2001); Avianca, Inc. v. Corriea, 1992 WL 102999, at *1 (D.D.C. Apr. 13, 1992); see also Brock v. Unique Racquetball & Health Clubs, Inc., 786 F.2d 61, 65 (2d Cir. 1986) (noting that "default concludes the liability phase of the trial"). Default does not, however, establish liability for the amount of damage that the plaintiff claims. Shepherd v. Am. Broad. Cos., Inc., 862 F. Supp. 486, 491 (D.D.C. 1994), vacated on other grounds, 62 F.3d 1469 (D.C. Cir. 1995). Instead, "unless the amount of damages is certain, the court is required to make an independent determination of the sum to be awarded." Adkins, 180 F. Supp. 2d at 17; see also Credit Lyonnais Secs. (USA), Inc. v. Alcantara, 183 F.3d 151, 155 (2d Cir. 1999) (stating that the court must conduct an inquiry to ascertain the amount of damages with reasonable certainty). The court has considerable latitude in determining the amount of damages. Jones v. Winnepesaukee Realty, 990 F.2d 1, 4 (1st Cir. 1993). To fix the amount, the court may conduct a ...

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