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International Painters and v. Dettrey's Allstate

January 21, 2011


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

Re Document No.: 6



This matter comes before the court on the plaintiffs' motion for default judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2). The plaintiffs, the International Painters and Allied Trades Industry Pension Fund ("the Pension Fund") and Gary J. Meyers, a fiduciary of the Pension Fund, allege that the defendant failed to make contributions to employee benefit funds in violation of a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1145. The defendant, though properly served, has not responded to the complaint. Accordingly, the plaintiffs now seek entry of default judgment and monetary damages. For the reasons discussed below, the court grants in part and denies without prejudice in part the plaintiffs' motion for default judgment.


On May 1, 2006, the defendant entered into a CBA with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, AFL-CIO, CLC ("the Union"), effective until March 31, 2011. Pls.' Mot, Ex. 2 at 9. Pursuant to the CBA, the defendant is required to submit timely reports and contribution payments to the Pension Fund on behalf of the employees covered by the agreement. Pl.'s Mot., Decl. of Thomas Montemore, Assistant to the Pension Fund Administrator ("Montemore Decl.") ¶ 6. The plaintiffs claim that the defendant neglected to submit the required remittance reports and to contribute to the employee benefit funds from October 2008 until the present, in violation of the CBA. Id. ¶¶ 7-8.

In January 2010, the plaintiffs commenced this action to recover these delinquent contributions and any additional relief available under the ERISA. Compl. at 5. The plaintiffs served the defendant with the summons and complaint on February 22, 2010. See generally Return of Service (Apr. 5, 2010). After the defendant failed to respond to the complaint, the plaintiffs requested an entry of default on April 13, 2010, and served the defendant with a copy of their affidavit in support of default. Aff. in Supp. of Default at 3. On April 14, 2010, the Clerk of the Court entered default against the defendant. See generally Entry of Default. Immediately thereafter, the plaintiffs filed this motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2),*fn1

which they also served on the defendant. See Pl.'s Mot. at 7. The plaintiffs contend that they are entitled to entry of a default judgment because the defendant has failed to appear, answer, plead or otherwise defend itself in response to the summons and complaint. Id. at 1. More specifically, the plaintiffs seek an order awarding them a total of $14,544.56. Id. at 6. The court turns now to the applicable legal standard and the plaintiffs' requests for relief.


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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