United States District Court, District of Columbia
TIMOTHY J. KELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
commenced this action seeking judicial review of the denial
of their applications for adjustment of their immigration
status. See ECF No. 1. On June 5, 2019, a week after
Defendants' answer was due, the Clerk of Court entered
Defendants' default at the request of Plaintiffs because
Defendants had failed to answer or otherwise respond to
Plaintiffs' complaint by the deadline set by the Court.
See ECF No. 19. Two days later, Defendants moved to vacate
the Clerk's entry of default and dismiss the complaint.
See ECF No. 20; ECF No. 21. A week later, Plaintiffs opposed
the motion to vacate and moved for default judgment in a
consolidated filing. See ECF No. 23. For the reasons
explained below, Defendants' motion to vacate is GRANTED,
and Plaintiffs' motion for default judgment is therefore
DENIED. Defendants' motion to dismiss, however, is DENIED
entry of default may be set aside for “good
cause.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(c). That determination is left
to the discretion of the district court, but “[i]n
exercising its discretion, the district court is supposed to
consider ‘whether (1) the default was willful, (2) a
set-aside would prejudice [the] plaintiff, and (3) the
alleged defense [is] meritorious.'” Mohamad v.
Rajoub, 634 F.3d 604, 606 (D.C. Cir. 2011), aff'd
sub nom, Mohamad v. Palestinian Auth., 566 U.S. 449
(2012) (quoting Keegel v. Key W. & Caribbean Trading
Co., 627 F.2d 372, 373 (D.C. Cir. 1980)). Nonetheless,
“in this Circuit, ‘strong policies favor
resolution of disputes on their merits.'” Republic
of Kazakhstan v. Stati, 325 F.R.D. 507, 509 (D.D.C.
2018) (quoting Jackson v. Beech, 636 F.2d 831, 836
(D.C. Cir. 1980)).
begin with, Plaintiffs contend that Defendants' motion to
vacate should be denied on procedural grounds that largely
relate to their motion to dismiss. Specifically, Plaintiffs
argue that Defendants' motion to dismiss is defective
because Defendants neglected to include a certified list of
the contents of the administrative record as required by
Local Civil Rule 7(n) and further because they did not seek
leave of Court to file the motion. ECF No. 22-1 at 20-21. And
without a procedurally proper response to the complaint on
the docket, Plaintiffs insist, Defendants' motion to
vacate is deficient, because it was not “accompanied by
a verified answer presenting a defense sufficient to bar the
claim in whole or in part” as required by Local Civil
Rule 7(g). ECF No. 22-1 at 20-21. Plaintiffs also allege the
Defendants' counsel did not meaningfully confer with
Plaintiffs' counsel before moving to vacate the entry of
default as required by Local Civil Rule 7(m).
Court, in its discretion, concludes that these alleged
defects do not warrant denying Defendants' motion to
vacate. Plaintiffs are correct that Defendants did not seek
leave to file their motion to dismiss out of time in
accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(b)(1)(B).
See Smith v. District of Columbia, 430 F.3d 450,
456-57 (D.C. Cir. 2005). For that reason, the Court will deny
Defendants' motion to dismiss without prejudice and
afford them an opportunity to refile.
same, the Court will not deny Defendants' motion to
vacate on the basis that Defendants' motion to dismiss
was procedurally improper. See Haskins v. U.S. One
Transp., LLC, 755 F.Supp.2d 126 (D.D.C. 2010) (granting
motion to set aside default but denying accompanying
dispositive motion because of procedural defects, with a
chance to refile). As explained below, the Court is
satisfied, upon review of the motion to dismiss, that
Defendants are prepared to present a meritorious defense.
Furthermore, doing so accords with this Circuit's strong
policy in favor of deciding cases on the merits. See Stati,
325 F.R.D. at 509 (excusing defendants from Rule 7(g)'s
requirement in part because of strong preference to proceed
on the merits). Lastly, to the extent that Defendants did not
meaningfully confer with Plaintiffs before moving to
vacate-Plaintiffs allege that they only received an email a
few hours before Defendants filed the motion-given that the
intention of Rule 7(m) is to compel parties to try to resolve
or narrow disputes prior to involving the Court, it is not
clear what purpose denying Defendants' motion on that
basis would serve now in light of Plaintiffs' vigorous
opposition. In sum, the Court will not deny Defendants the
opportunity to participate in this case on these
to the merits of Defendants' motion to vacate, Plaintiffs
do not contest the first two factors-nor could they. See ECF
No. 22-1 at 6. As to the willfulness factor, counsel for
Defendants represents that he “mistakenly believed he
had until [the following] week to file Defendants'
response to Plaintiffs' complaint.” ECF No. 20
¶ 2. And upon realizing his error after the Clerk's
entry of default, he promptly prepared a response and moved
to set aside the default a mere two days later. “To
show willfulness, a moving party need not establish bad
faith, though it must demonstrate more than mere
negligence.” Gray v. Staley, 310 F.R.D. 32, 35
(D.D.C. 2015). Nothing in the record suggests that counsel
for Defendants' conduct amounted to anything beyond
carelessness. As to the prejudice factor, Plaintiffs admit
that they “cannot be said to be too prejudiced”
by Defendants' one-week delay in responding to the
complaint. ECF No. 22-1 at 6.
Plaintiffs emphasize the third factor, but it gets them no
further. As Plaintiffs note, Defendants in their motion to
dismiss both assert that this Court lacks jurisdiction to
review the denial of their immigration applications and
dispute the merits of Plaintiffs' claims that the agency
misinterpreted the relevant statutory provisions and violated
the Administrative Procedure Act. See ECF No. 21-1 at 5-8
(jurisdictional argument), 8-15 (statutory argument). In the
context of a motion to vacate a Clerk's entry of default,
“allegations are meritorious if they contain
‘even a hint of a suggestion' which, proven at
trial, would constitute a complete defense.” Keegel,
627 F.2d at 374 (quoting Moldwood Corp. v. Stutts,
410 F.2d 351, 352 (5th Cir. 1969)). Defendants' argument
that the agency correctly interpreted and applied the
applicable statutory provisions in denying Plaintiffs'
applications would-if the Court agreed- constitute a complete
defense to Plaintiffs' claims for relief. And reviewing
that argument, the Court concludes, at the very least, that
it meets the low bar for “meritorious” in this
context. Accordingly, the Court finds that this factor weighs
in favor of vacatur as well.
consideration of the relevant factors, and particularly in
light of this Circuit's strong preference for resolving
disputes on the merits, the Court finds that setting aside
the entry of default is warranted.
these reasons, it is hereby ORDERED that Defendants'
Motion to Vacate, ECF No. 20, is GRANTED. Because Defendants
are no longer in default, Plaintiffs' Motion for Default
Judgment, ECF No. 23, is DENIED.
further ORDERED that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, ECF
No. 21, is DENIED without prejudice. Defendants shall seek
leave to answer or otherwise respond to Plaintiffs'
complaint no later than June 24, 2019, and any proposed
dispositive motion it seeks leave to file shall be
accompanied by a certified list of the contents of the
administrative record, as required by Local Civil Rule 7(n).
Plaintiffs' Motion for an Extension of Time to Respond to
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 24, is thus DENIED
although the Court determines, in its discretion, that
vacating the entry of default is appropriate here, the Court
nevertheless finds counsel for Defendants' conduct so far
in this action concerning, insofar as that conduct appears to
reflect a lack of familiarity with the Federal Rules and this
Court's local rules. It is further ORDERED that the
parties promptly review and familiarize themselves with those
rules, as the Court may not look so favorably on
“technicalities” in the future.