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James Boland et al. v. Elite Terrazzo Flooring

January 27, 2011


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

Re Document No.: 8




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, trustees of the Bricklayers and Trowel Trades International Pension Fund ("IPF") and the International Masonry Institute ("IMI"), allege that the defendant failed to make contributions to employee benefit funds in violation of collective bargaining agreements ("CBAs") 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 request monetary damages and injunctive relief. For the reasons discussed below, the court grants the plaintiffs' motion.


From 2006 to 2009, the defendant entered into three separate CBAs with the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local Union No. 7 New York/New Jersey ("the Union"). Pls.' Mot., Decl. of David F. Stupar, Executive Director of the Fund ("Stupar Decl.") ¶ 7. The CBAs require the defendant to submit monthly reports and payments to the IPF and the IMI on behalf of the construction industry employees covered by the agreements. Id. Although the defendant submitted the required monthly reports, the plaintiffs claim that it neglected to contribute to the employee benefit funds from May 2009 through January 2010, in violation of the CBAs. Id. ¶ 9.

In April 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 May 5, 2010. Return of Service/Affidavit, Aff. of Ira Mitzner ("Mitzner Aff.") ¶ 2. The defendant never responded to the complaint. On August 24, 2010, the plaintiffs requested an entry of default and served the defendant with a copy of their affidavit in support of default. Aff. in Supp. for Default at 2. The following day, the Clerk of the Court entered the default. Pls.' Mot., Ex. B ("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 defendants. See Pl.'s Mot. at 3. Throughout this period, the defendant has failed to submit any pleadings or otherwise defend itself against this action. 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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