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Boland v. Yoccabel Construction Co., Inc.

United States District Court, District Circuit

August 28, 2013

JAMES BOLAND, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
YOCCABEL CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RIGGIE B. WALTON, District Judge.

The plaintiffs, [1] in their capacity as fiduciaries and board members of both the Bricklayers and Trowel Trades International Pension Fund (the "International Pension Fund") and the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers International Health Fund (the "International Health Fund"), have filed a motion seeking entry of a default judgment against and attorneys' fees from the defendant Yoccabel Construction Company, Inc. ("Yoccabel"). See Motion for Entry of Default Judgment and Incorporated Memorandum in Support Thereof ("Pls.' Mot.") at 1. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the plaintiffs' motion must be granted.[2]

I. BACKGROUND

The defendant entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen and, by extension, its affiliate local unions on October 12, 2010. Complaint ("Compl."), Exhibit ("Ex.") A (Labor Agreement Between the Signatory Masonry Contractors' Association of Arizona, Yoccabel Construction Company, and the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Union Local No. 3 ("Labor Agreement")) at 36. The plaintiffs later filed this action pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (the "ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461 (2006), seeking to collect delinquent and unpaid contributions, interest on the delinquent and unpaid contributions, and liquidated damages owed to the International Pension Fund and International Health Fund resulting from the defendant's violation of the parties' collective bargaining agreement, as well as attorney's fees. Compl. at 6-7. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendant "failed to submit the full amount of required contributions for certain covered work it performed [from] April 2011 through March 2012." Id . ¶ 10. They further alleged that the "total known contributions due the International Pension Fund and International Health Fund by Yoccabel for covered work [from] April 2011 through March 2012... amount[ed] to $5, 886.00, " plus "interest in the amount of $430.34, " and liquidated damages in two forms: $1, 161.20 for "delinquent contributions, " and "$1, 187.57 assessed on contributions paid to the International Health Fund after the Due Date for covered work performed during... July 2011 and August 2011." Id. at 6. Thus, the plaintiffs' complaint requested relief for "the total amount of $9, 015.11." Id.

The defendant neither entered an appearance nor answered the plaintiffs' complaint, and thus the Clerk of this Court entered a default against the defendant on November 9, 2012. See ECF No. 7. The plaintiffs subsequently moved for entry of default judgment. See Pls.' Mot. at 1. In their motion, the plaintiffs represented that the defendant "entered into a series of discussions in an attempt to settle the case" that concluded with the defendant claiming it "would keep to a payment schedule so long as [the plaintiffs] did not default the company."[3] Id. at 1-2. The plaintiffs represented further that the defendant made one payment in August 2012, but "then the payments stopped." Id. at 2. In the intervening time between the filing of the complaint and the plaintiffs' motion, the defendant "became further delinquent in its payments, and, as a result, the International Pension Fund had to re-calculate the extent of [the defendant's] delinquency, " which has resulted in the plaintiffs seeking a default judgment "in the amount of $20, 332.88, " rather than the $9, 015.11 sought in the complaint. See id. at 2-3; Compl. at 6. The defendant has not challenged the entry of the default or opposed the plaintiffs' motion.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When a defendant fails to defend against a case 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. Dist. of Columbia , 236 F.R.D. 13, 15 (D.D.C. 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." (citation and quotation marks omitted)). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for the entry of a default when "a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend." Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). Rule 55 sets forth a two-step process for a party seeking a default judgment: entry of a default, followed by entry of a default judgment. See id.; Jackson , 636 F.2d at 835; see also 10A Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice & Procedure § 2682 (3d ed. 2008) (stating that, before "obtaining a default judgment under either Rule 55(b)(1) or Rule 55(b)(2), there must be an entry of default as provided by Rule 55(a)"). Thus, when a defendant has failed to respond to pleadings or otherwise defend against an action, the plaintiff may request that the clerk of the court enter a default against that defendant. 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 the defendant. Id . 55(b).

Despite a plaintiff's ability to acquire a judgment by default, there are "strong policies favoring the resolution of genuine disputes on their merits." Jackson , 636 F.2d at 835; see Peak , 236 F.R.D. at 15 (acknowledging the inherent unfairness of awarding judgment against a party for mere filing delays). However, while courts do not favor default judgment and will only resolve cases in this manner "when the adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party[, ] the diligent party must be protected lest he be faced with interminable delay and continued uncertainty as to his rights." Teamsters Local 639-Emp'rs Health Trust v. Boiler & Furnace Cleaners, Inc. , 571 F.Supp.2d 101, 107 (D.D.C. 2008) (citing Peak , 236 F.R.D. at 15; Jackson , 636 F.2d at 836).

III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Whether Default is Warranted

The plaintiffs contend that they are entitled to a default judgment because the defendant "has failed to answer the Complaint, default has been entered by the Clerk, and [the] [p]laintiffs are entitled to judgment." Pls.' Mot. at 2. As the plaintiffs correctly note, no response has been filed by the defendant even though notice of the case as well as notice of the filing of the motion for a default judgment have been provided to the defendant. Id. at 2, 4.

Whether the entry of a default judgment is appropriate is committed to the sound discretion of this Court. Jackson , 636 F.2d at 836. To warrant a default judgment, the defendant must be considered a "totally unresponsive" party whose failure to "respond to the summons and complaint, the entry of a default, and the motion for a default judgment" demonstrates plainly willful behavior. Teamsters Local 639 , 571 F.Supp.2d at 107 (citing, among others, Jackson , 636 F.2d at 836). Given the "absence of any request to set aside the default or suggestion by the defendant that it has a meritorious defense, " and especially in light of the plaintiffs' uncontested allegation that the defendant entered into settlement discussions, the Court finds that entry of a default judgment is appropriate in this case. See id.

B. Monetary Relief

Although a default judgment establishes a defendant's liability, the Court must "make an independent determination of the sum to be awarded" pursuant to the judgment "unless the amount of damages is certain." Adkins v. Teseo , 180 F.Supp.2d 15, 17 (D.D.C. 2001) (citing SEC v. Mgmt. Dynamics, Inc. , 515 ...


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