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Marmaras v. Marafatsos

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 29, 2019

NICK JOHN MARMARAS, Plaintiff,
v.
PANAGIOTIS MARAFATSOS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Nick John Marmaras seeks default judgment against Defendant Panagiotis Marafatsos, who has not appeared in this action. But Plaintiff has not adequately pled his claims. Accordingly, upon consideration of the briefing, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, in an exercise of its discretion the Court DENIES WITHOUT PREJUDICE Plaintiff's [11] Motion for Default for Failure to Appear, which in essence is a motion for default judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Only a brief recitation of the pertinent allegations is necessary in light of the Court's disposition today. Plaintiff and Defendant are the two members of a California limited liability corporation entitled King Greek, LLC. Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 2, 3, 14.[2] That entity was formed for the purpose of “turn[ing] [a] theater play script about [Plaintiff's] life into a movie.” Id. ¶¶ 11-12. Initially Plaintiff held a 60% membership interest in King Greek, LLC, while Defendant held the remaining 40%. Id. ¶ 14.

         Plaintiff made a series of payments to Defendant to facilitate their movie project, but the latter did not use those funds for the designated purposes. See, e.g., id. ¶¶ 18, 32-34. Defendant attempted to redirect potential investors to his own, alternative projects, and failed to comply with a number of other obligations to King Greek, LLC, and Plaintiff, as well. See generally Id. ¶¶ 15-38. Of particular note, Defendant omitted King Greek, LLC, and Plaintiff when registering the movie script in Defendant's own name. Id. ¶ 35. In addition, the parties agreed to adjust the allocation of membership interest in King Greek, LLC, “but [Defendant] kept on finding excuses to delay the legal transfer of the additional 20% membership interest to [Plaintiff].” Id. ¶¶ 21-23.

         In Plaintiff's three-count Complaint filed on May 26, 2018, Plaintiff seeks damages and other relief for copyright infringement, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty. Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 1, 44-60 & Prayer for Relief. At the Court's prompting, Plaintiff filed proof of service on August 30, 2018, which indicated that Defendant was served on June 9, 2018. The deadline for his answer or other response to the Complaint had come and gone, and still Defendant had not appeared. Again the Court ordered Plaintiff to take further action, at the risk of dismissal of the case without prejudice. Plaintiff sought default, which the Clerk of Court entered on November 27, 2018. Default, ECF No. 10. Again at the Court's prompting, Plaintiff then moved for default judgment.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(a) provides that the Clerk of the Court must enter a party's request for a default “[w]hen a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend, and that failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). After a default has been entered by the Clerk, a party may move the court for a default judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2).

         “The determination of whether default judgment is appropriate is committed to the discretion of the trial court.” Int'l Painters & Allied Trades Indus. Pension Fund v. Auxier Drywall, LLC, 531 F.Supp.2d 56, 57 (D.D.C. 2008); 10A Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice & Procedure Civil § 2685 (4th ed.). Factual allegations in a well-pleaded complaint against a defaulting defendant are taken as true. Int'l Painters & Allied Trades Indus. Pension Fund v. R.W. Amrine Drywall Co., Inc., 239 F.Supp.2d 26, 30 (D.D.C. 2002).

         Once the court is satisfied that the plaintiff is entitled to a default judgment, the court must independently determine the amount of damages to be awarded, unless the amount of damages is certain. Int'l Painters & Allied Trades Indus. Pension Fund v. Davanc Contracting, Inc., 808 F.Supp.2d 89, 94 (D.D.C. 2011) (Kollar-Kotelly, J.) (citing Adkins v. Teseo, 180 F.Supp.2d 15, 17 (D.D.C. 2001)).[3] In making an independent determination, “the court may rely on detailed affidavits or documentary evidence.” Breaking the Chain Found., Inc. v. Capitol Educ. Support, Inc., 589 F.Supp.2d 25, 28 (D.D.C. 2008) (Kollar-Kotelly, J.) (quoting Adkins, 180 F.Supp.2d at 17) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         “The court may conduct [a] hearing[ ] . . . when, to enter or effectuate judgment, it needs to: (A) conduct an accounting; (B) determine the amount of damages; (C) establish the truth of any allegation by evidence; or (D) investigate any other matter.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2); see also Jackson v. Beech, 636 F.2d 831, 835 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (“[A] court must hold a hearing on damages before entering a judgment on an unliquidated claim even against a defendant who has been totally unresponsive.”); Progressive Nursing Staffers of Virginia, Inc. v. Capitol Med. Ctr., LLC, Civil Action No. 11-2160 (JDB), 2013 WL 140251, at *2 (D.D.C. Jan. 11, 2013) (same).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The Court is satisfied that it has federal-question jurisdiction over Count I under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101, et seq. 28 U.S.C. § 1331; 17 U.S.C. § 501(b) (providing cause of action for copyright infringement). The state law claims in Counts II and III require separate jurisdictional grounds.

         Plaintiff has not invoked diversity jurisdiction. The parties appear to have diverse citizenship, however, and the breach of contract claim implicates an amount in controversy exceeding $75, 000, though the breach of fiduciary duty claim does not. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332; Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 2, 3, 56, 60 (alleging parties' addresses in two different states, contract damages of $100, 000, and fiduciary duty damages of $70, 000). Nevertheless, the amount-in-controversy is considered on a claim-by-claim basis. 13D Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice & Procedure Jurisdiction § 3567 (3d ed.) ...


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