Alexander v. Yuba City

Filing 22

ORDER signed by Senior Judge William B. Shubb on 10/11/2017 re 14 Defendants' Motion to Set Aside Defaults and 16 Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment and Motion to Strike Defendants' Answer: IT IS ORDERED that Defendants' Motion to Set Aside Defaults be, and the same hereby is, GRANTED; AND IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment and Motion to Strike Defendants' Answer be, and the same hereby is, DENIED. (Kirksey Smith, K)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 12 ----oo0oo---MICHAEL PATRICK ALEXANDER, CIV. NO. 2:17-1622 WBS CKD Plaintiff, 13 14 15 16 17 v. YUBA CITY; NICOLAS MORAWCZNSKI; JASON PARKER; COUNTY OF SUTTER; and DOES 150, inclusive, ORDER Defendants. 18 19 ----oo0oo---- 20 21 On August 4, 2017, plaintiff filed this civil rights 22 action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his Fourth, 23 Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. 24 Defendants’ Yuba City and Morawcznski’s responsive pleadings were 25 due by Friday, August 25, 2017, and defendant Parker’s responsive 26 pleading was due by September 12, 2017, pursuant to Federal Rule 27 of Civil Procedure 12(a). 28 (Compl. ¶ 21-26.) On Monday, August 28, 2017, the first business day 1 1 after Yuba City and Morawcznski’s answer was due, plaintiff filed 2 requests for entry of default against Yuba City and Morawcznski. 3 The next day, on August 29, 2017, the clerk entered the defaults 4 of defendants Yuba City and Morawcznski. 5 Yuba City and Morawcznski filed their Answer to plaintiff’s 6 Complaint. 7 That very same day, On August 31, 2017, after becoming aware that the clerk 8 had entered the defaults of Morawczinski and Yuba City, defense 9 counsel contacted plaintiff’s counsel and asked for a stipulation 10 to set aside the default. 11 6 (Docket No. 14-3).) 12 that he planned to file a request for default judgments. 13 (Derick E. Konz Decl. (“Konz Decl.”) ¶ Plaintiff’s counsel refused and stated Id. Morawcznski and Yuba City now move to set aside the 14 defaults and have their Answer be allowed to stand. 15 requests that the court strike Yuba City and Morawcznski’s Answer 16 and enter a Default Judgment against them. 17 Plaintiff A court may set aside an entry of default for good 18 cause. 19 exists, the court will examine: (1) whether the defendant’s 20 culpable conduct led to the default; (2) whether the defendant 21 has a meritorious defense; and (3) whether reopening the default 22 would prejudice the plaintiff. 23 Knoebber, 244 F. 3d 691, 696 (9th Cir. 2001). 24 to vacate an entry of default bears the burden of demonstrating 25 that these factors favor vacating the default. 26 27 28 A. Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(c). In determining whether good cause TCI Grp. Life Ins. Plan v. The party seeking Id. Culpable Conduct A defendant’s conduct is deemed culpable “if he has received actual or constructive notice of the filing of the 2 1 action and intentionally failed to answer.” 2 at 697. 3 more commonly, omissions caused by carelessness” do not equate to 4 “an intentional failure to answer.” 5 “Credible, good faith explanation negating any intention to take 6 advantage of the opposing party, interfere with judicial 7 decision-making, or otherwise manipulate the legal process is not 8 intentional.” Knoebber, 244 F. 3d “Neglect [or] simple, faultless omissions to act and, 9 Id. (citations omitted). Id. at 698. Here, defendants’ failure to file a timely answer does 10 not appear to have been intentional. 11 Kilday acknowledges that he received a letter dated August 14, 12 2017, that mentioned that Yuba City had been served on August 4, 13 2017, but represents that this detail was inadvertently missed. 14 (Decl. of Bruce A. Kilday ¶ 9 (Docket No. 14-2).) 15 counsel was never told that service had been accomplished, and 16 argues that had he known that the Complaint had been served, he 17 would have arranged for a timely response. 18 Defense counsel Bruce Defense Id. There is no evidence suggesting that defendants were 19 attempting to take advantage of plaintiff or otherwise manipulate 20 the legal system. 21 business days after the responsive pleading had been due, seeming 22 to negate any inference that defendants were trying to 23 unnecessarily delay the process or take advantage of plaintiff. 24 The court finds that defendants have articulated a credible, good 25 faith explanation for filing the Answer on August 29 rather than 26 on August 25. 27 defaults. 28 B. Defendants filed their Answer just two This factor weighs in favor of setting aside the Meritorious Defense 3 1 To satisfy this element, defendants must present 2 specific facts that would constitute a defense. 3 3d at 700. 4 insufficient, the burden “is not extraordinarily heavy.” 5 Knoebber, 244 F. While a mere general denial without fact is Id. Here, plaintiff alleges that he was forced into a 6 coerced confession and unlawfully held in custody without 7 sufficient evidence of his involvement in his neighbor’s murder. 8 (Compl. ¶¶ 13, 20.) 9 preliminary hearing was held in the criminal case and the In response, defendants state that a 10 Superior Court determined that the evidence was sufficient to 11 order plaintiff to remain in custody and to file a criminal 12 Information. 13 defendants have met their burden of submitting a meritorious 14 defense. 15 C. (Konz Decl. ¶ 7.) By presenting these facts, Prejudice to Plaintiff 16 In order to be found prejudicial, the court must 17 determine that setting aside the default would “result in greater 18 harm than simply delaying resolution of the case.” 19 F. 3d at 701. 20 ability to pursue his claim will be hindered.” 21 omitted.) 22 of evidence, increased difficulties of discovery, or greater 23 opportunity for fraud or collusion.” 24 Knoebber, 244 The applicable “standard is whether [plaintiff’s] Id. (citations “The delay must result in tangible harm such as loss Id. Here, Morawcznski and Yuba City filed their Answer four 25 calendar days--just two business days--after it was due, nearly 26 two weeks before co-defendant Parker’s responsive pleading was 27 due, and only twenty-five days after the Complaint was filed. 28 is hard to imagine how setting aside the default would cause 4 It 1 plaintiff any harm. 2 Plaintiff argues that his safety is jeopardized and he 3 will remain “under virtual house arrest” until this case is 4 resolved. 5 6:26-7:5 (Docket No. 15).) 6 any evidence that he has been harmed, or that he has been 7 threatened with future harm, by virtue of the pendency of this 8 action. 9 (Pl.’s Opp’n to Defs.’ Mot. to Set Aside Defaults However, plaintiff does not present As discussed above, the three required elements all 10 weigh in favor of setting aside the defaults. 11 Ninth Circuit has emphasized that default judgments are 12 “appropriate only in extreme circumstance; a case should, 13 whenever possible, be decided on the merits.” 14 F. 2d 461, 463 (9th Cir. 1984). 15 to set aside the defaults must be granted. 16 Additionally, the Falk v. Allen, 739 Accordingly, defendants’ Motion Because the court grants defendants’ motion to set 17 aside the defaults, plaintiff’s motions for default judgment and 18 to strike defendants’ answer will be denied. 19 IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that defendants’ Motion to Set 20 Aside Defaults (Docket No. 14) be, and the same hereby is, 21 GRANTED; 22 AND IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that plaintiff’s Motion for 23 Default Judgment and Motion to Strike Defendants’ Answer (Docket 24 No. 16) be, and the same hereby is, DENIED. 25 Dated: October 11, 2017 26 27 28 5

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