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Dumpson v. Ade

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 9, 2019

TAYLOR DUMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
BRIAN ANDREW ADE, ANDREW ANGLIN, and MOONBASE HOLDINGS, LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROSEMARY M. COLLYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Taylor Dumpson filed this case against Brian Andrew Ade, Andrew Anglin, and Moonbase Holdings, LLC, for allegedly interfering with her right to full and equal enjoyment of places of public accommodation and an educational institution and for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Messrs. Ade and Anglin and Moonbase Holdings were served but failed to answer. Following the entry of default by the Clerk of Court, Ms. Dumpson moved for default judgment. Defendants failed to respond to her motion or the Court's Order to Show Cause why it should not be granted. The Court will grant her motion for default judgment; order compensatory damages in the amount of $101, 429.28, punitive damages in the amount of $500, 000, and attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $124, 022.10; enter a restraining order against Moonbase Holdings and Messrs. Anglin and Ade; and enter a preservation order against Mr. Anglin and Moonbase Holdings.

         I. FACTS

         On May 1, 2017, one day after Ms. Dumpson was inaugurated as the first female, African-American student government president at American University (AU), a masked man hung nooses with bananas inscribed with racist and derogatory messages around the AU campus, including near the Mary Graden Center, the student center which houses the AU Student Government offices. Am. Compl. [Dkt. 16] ¶¶ 51, 61, 63-64. It is alleged that the bananas were inscribed with phrases such as “AKA Free” (a reference to Ms. Dumpson's sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha) and “Harambe bait” (a reference to a gorilla because comparing African Americans to apes is a common racist slur). Id. ¶ 64. Ms. Dumpson, AU, and law enforcement all believed Ms. Dumpson to be “the primary target of the hate crime.” Id. ¶ 74.

         After the media reported on this crime, Mr. Anglin posted an article about Ms. Dumpson on his website, the Daily Stormer, [1] writing: “No one feels safe around bananas. Some racists have taken to calling this African Queen ‘Dumpy Dumpson,' smdh [shaking my damn head].” Id. ¶¶ 89-90. Mr. Anglin then published Ms. Dumpson's name, photo, and direct links to her Facebook account and the AU Student Government Twitter account with which Ms. Dumpson was associated as AU Student Government President. Id. ¶ 90. Mr. Anglin further directed his followers to “troll storm”[2] Ms. Dumpson, Id. ¶ 2, encouraging them to troll Ms. Dumpson saying: “Be sure to send her some words of support on Facebook, and hit up the AU Student Government on Twitter. Let her know that you fully support her struggle against bananas.” Id. ¶ 90.

         After Mr. Anglin's article, Ms. Dumpson's Facebook accounts and the AU, AU Student Government, and AU Student Government President Twitter accounts were targeted with messages. Id. ¶ 97. Mr. Ade participated in the troll storm by posting on Twitter comments including: (1) “I beez prezdent n sheeeeit, ” (2) “Turdler takes a Dump son, ” (3) “OOOOOOK EEEEEK CHIMPOUT!, ” (4) “You beez 100% sheboon!, ” (5) “Sheeeeit I dindu nuffins she was axing fo it n sheeeit!, ” (6) “Racoons Rule, coons drool, ” (7) “Waah, waah, Dats Rayceez!, ” and (8) “Chimput!” Id. ¶ 100. In response to the AU Student Government's post about a campus community meeting regarding the incident, Mr. Ade responded, “[s]o in black people time, this will start whenever.” Id.

         After receiving the messages[3] from Mr. Ade and others, Ms. Dumpson began fearing for her life and suffering both physically and mentally. Id. ¶¶ 120-28. Ms. Dumpson felt constantly on edge when walking alone and became terrified of leaving her home at night. Id. ¶¶ 125-26. She started to carry an alarm on her keyring at all times and pepper spray for self-defense. Id. ¶ 125. Because she no longer felt comfortable to walk, bike, or take public transportation to commute to school and travel around town, she began to take Ubers more frequently. Id. ¶ 126. Ms. Dumpson's academics and preparation for law school also suffered as a result of the online harassment. She no longer felt safe studying late on AU's campus at night, missed exams, and dropped her minor in sociology. Id. ¶ 128. Ms. Dumpson also continues to feel scared of being harassed and stalked online which has interfered with her online presence and self-expression. Id. ¶ 127. From July 2017 to the present, Ms. Dumpson has been receiving regular psychiatric counseling. Id. ¶ 123. She was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), an eating disorder, depression, and anxiety; and she is now being treated for these conditions. Id. ¶¶ 124, 177. From June 2017 to January 2018, Ms. Dumpson lost an unhealthy amount of weight-more than 15% of her body weight-from the mental trauma stemming from the incident. Id. ¶ 121.

         On April 30, 2018, Ms. Dumpson filed a Complaint against Messrs. Ade and Anglin, Moonbase Holdings, and James McCarty.[4] Compl. [Dkt. 1]. Moonbase Holdings and Messrs. Ade and Anglin failed to respond to the Complaint and the Clerk of Court entered default against each Defendant. See Clerk's Entry of Default as to Brian Andrew Ade [Dkt. 10]; Clerk's Entry of Default as to Moonbase Holdings, LLC [Dkt. 20]; Clerk's Entry of Default as to Andrew Anglin [Dkt. 28].

         Ms. Dumpson now moves for default judgment against Messrs. Anglin and Ade and Moonbase Holdings for violations of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act of 1977 (DCHRA), D.C. Code § 2-1401.01 et seq., and intentional infliction of emotional distress. See Mot. for Default J. (Mot.) [Dkt. 35]; Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Default. J. (Mem.) [Dkt. 35-1]. Ms. Dumpson asks the Court to find Defendants jointly and severally liable for her injuries and requests compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys' fees, and injunctive relief. Mot. at 1-2. Defendants have not responded to Ms. Dumpson's Motion for Default Judgment or the Court's Order to Show Cause why default judgment should not be entered. See Order to Show Cause [Dkt. 39]. The motion is ripe for review.

         II. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

         The Court has diversity jurisdiction over this action. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Ms. Dumpson is a citizen of Maryland, Am. Compl. ¶ 16; Mr. Anglin is a citizen of Ohio, id.

         ¶ 29; Moonbase Holdings is a limited-liability corporation registered in Ohio, Id. ¶ 30; and Mr. Ade is a citizen of Tennessee. Id. ¶ 33. Additionally, Ms. Dumpson's requested relief exceeds $75, 000. Id. ¶ 38. Venue is proper in this Court and the Court has personal jurisdiction over the Defendants because the allegedly discriminatory statements were targeted at an individual that attended school in, and activities that occurred in, the District of Columbia. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 4; D.C. Code § 13-423(a)(3); 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2).

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55

         There is a two-step procedure for requesting default judgment. Fanning v. Seneca One Realty LLC, 265 F.Supp.3d 31, 33 (D.D.C. 2017) (citing Boland v. Cacper Constr. Corp., 130 F.Supp.3d 379, 382 (D.D.C. 2015)). First, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(a) requires the Clerk of Court to enter 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). Second, once the Clerk has entered default, “the party must apply to the court for a default judgment.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2). A court may then enter default judgment as established in Rule 55(b). Id. Determining 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) (citing Jackson v. Beech, 636 F.2d 831, 836 (D.C. Cir. 1980)).

         “Default [judgment] establishes the defaulting party's liability for the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint.” Boland v. Elite Terrazzo Flooring, Inc., 763 F.Supp.2d 64, 67 (D.D.C. 2011). To authorize default judgment, a “defendant must be considered a ‘totally unresponsive' party, and its default plainly willful, reflected by its failure to respond to the summons and complaint, the entry of a default, or the motion for default judgment.” Int'l Painters, 531 F.Supp.2d at 57 (quoting Gutierrez v. Berg Contracting Inc., No. 99-3044, 2000 WL 331721, at *1 (D.D.C. Mar. 20, 2000)). Given “the absence of any request to set aside the default or suggestion by the defendant that it has a meritorious defense, ” courts have found that the plaintiff has satisfied the standard for default judgment. Id. (quoting Gutierrez, 2000 WL 331721, at *1).

         B. Damages

         Once the Court has established liability, “the court must make an independent evaluation of the damages to be awarded and has ‘considerable latitude in determining the amount of damages.'” Sanchez v. Devashish Hosp., LLC, 322 F.R.D. 32, 35 (D.D.C. 2017) (quoting Ventura v. L.A. Howard Constr. Co., 134 F.Supp.3d 99, 103 (D.D.C. 2015) and Elite Terrazzo Flooring, 763 F.Supp.2d at 67). To determine whether there is a basis to determine damages, “a plaintiff must ‘prove [her] entitlement' to the relief requested using ‘detailed affidavits or documentary evidence on which the court may rely.'” Ventura, 134 F.Supp.3d at 103 (quoting Boland v. Providence Constr. Corp., 304 F.R.D. 31, 36 (D.D.C. 2014)). “Ultimately, what matters is that the court ‘ensures that there is a basis for the damages specified in the default judgment.'” Pescatore v. Palmera Pineda, 345 F.Supp.3d 68, 71 (D.D.C. 2018) (quoting Fanning v. Wegco, Inc., 5 F.Supp.3d 1, 4 (D.D.C. 2013)). A court may conduct a hearing to set the amount of damages, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2), but it is not required to do so as long as there is a basis for the damages specified in the motion for default judgment. See Ventura, 134 F.Supp.3d at 103.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Liability

         Ms. Dumpson followed the two-step procedure that is required for default judgment. The Clerk of Court entered default against Moonbase Holdings and Messrs. Ade and Anglin and Ms. Dumpson applied to this Court for default judgment.[5] The Court has discretion to determine whether default judgment is appropriate and may enter default judgment on any well-pleaded allegations. See Int'l Painters, 531 F.Supp.2d at 57. Courts consider whether the defendant is a “totally unresponsive” party, and its default plainly willful, reflected by its failure to respond to the summons and complaint, the entry of default, or the motion for default judgment. Id.

         Having failed to file an answer, object to the entry of default by the Clerk, or respond to the Court's order to show cause why default judgment should not be entered against them, the Court finds Messrs. Ade ...


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