Langer v. Astro Automotive Inc
RECOMMENDED RULING: denying as moot 17 MOTION for Default Judgment as to Astro Automotive Inc. filed by Alexander S. Langer, granting 14 MOTION to Set Aside Default filed by Astro Automotive Inc. 7 Pages. Objections due by 8/27/2012. Signed by Judge Joan G. Margolis on 8/13/2012. (Rodko, B.)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
ALEXANDER S. LANGER
ASTRO AUTOMOTIVE INC.
3:11 CV 2005 (CSH)
DATE: AUGUST 13, 2012
RECOMMENDED RULING ON PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR
DEFAULT JUDGMENT AND ON
DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO SET ASIDE DEFAULT
On December 23, 2011, plaintiff Alexander S. Langer commenced this action pro se,
after applying and interviewing for a job with defendant Astro Automobile, Inc., which job
was subsequently given to the youngest applicant. (Dkt. #1).1 Plaintiff asserts a claim under
the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634 et seq. (Id.).
On May 15, 2012, plaintiff filed a Motion for Default Entry under Rule 55(a) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure, which motion was granted two days later. (Dkts. ##10-11). On
May 22, 2012, counsel for defendant appeared (Dkt. #12) and filed the pending Motion to
Set Aside Default, with brief and affidavit in support. (Dkts. ##14-16).2 On May 23, 2012,
plaintiff filed a Motion for Default Judgment under Rule 55(b)(Dkt. #17),3 and six days later,
defendant filed a brief in opposition. (Dkt. #20). On June 25, 2012, defendant filed its
Plaintiff also filed a Motion to Proceed in forma pauperis (Dkt. #2), which motion was
referred to this Magistrate Judge from Senior United States District Judge Charles S. Haight, Jr. on
March 12, 2012. (Dkt. #6). The same day, plaintiff's Motion was granted. (Dkt. #7).
Dkt. #16 is an affidavit of Daniel Carter, Regional Sales Manager of defendant, dated May
22, 2012 ["Carter Aff't"], attached to which are the documents served on defendant.
Attached to plaintiff's motion is an affidavit of plaintiff, sworn to May 21, 2012.
Answer. (Dkt. #21). On July 16, 2012, plaintiff filed a Motion to Appoint Counsel. (Dkt.
For the reasons stated below, defendant's Motion to Set Aside Default (Dkt. #14) is
granted; plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment (Dkt. #17) is denied without prejudice as
moot; and plaintiff's Motion to Appoint Counsel (Dkt. #22) is denied without prejudice to
A. MOTION TO SET ASIDE DEFAULT (Dkt. #14)
In this case, default entered pursuant to Rule 55(a) on May 17, 2012; therefore, “the
factual allegations of the complaint, except those pertaining to damages, should ordinarily
be taken as true, with any doubt being resolved in favor of the defaulting party.” Atlantic
Recording Corp. v. Brennan, 534 F. Supp. 2d 278, 280 (D. Conn. 2008)(internal quotations
& citations omitted).
When the non-defaulting party moves for default judgment and the defaulting party
moves to set aside the default pursuant to Rule 55(c), the Court’s decision is guided by three
considerations: “(1) the willfulness of default; (2) the existence of a meritorious defense; and
(3) the possibility of prejudice to the plaintiffs should the default judgment be vacated.” Id.
at 280-81 (internal quotations & citations omitted). The Court’s disposition of the present
motion is also guided by the Second Circuit’s preference for resolving disputes on the merits
and “because defaults are generally disfavored and are reserved for rare occasions . . . .”
Enron Oil Corp. v. Diakuhara, 10 F.3d 90, 96 (2d Cir. 1993)(citations omitted), see also
Pecarsky v. Galaxiworld.com Ltd., 249 F.3d 167, 174 (2d Cir. 2001).
These motions have been referred to this Magistrate Judge. (Dkt. #6).
First, the Court must consider whether the defendant’s default was willful. The
inquiry into willfulness has been characterized by the Second Circuit as a “subjective inquiry.”
Atlantic Recording Corp., 534 F. Supp. 2d at 281, citing Am. Alliance Ins. Co. v. Eagle Ins.
Co., 92 F.3d 57, 61 (2d Cir. 1996). This subjective inquiry “effectively distinguishes those
defaults that, though due to neglect, are excusable, from those that are not.” Am. Alliance
Ins. Co., 92 F.3d at 61 (footnote omitted).
Here, defendant asserts that its Motion to Set Aside is based upon "good cause" in
that service of process was insufficient and improper. (Dkt. #20, at 1, 3). Specifically,
defendant contends that service was made upon an employee who is a driver for defendant
whose job duties were limited to driving a van, and who is not a "general agent of
[d]efendant or otherwise authorized under the Federal Rules for services of process directed
to a corporation." (Id. at 3; see Dkt. #15, at 3; Dkt. #16, Carter Aff't ¶ 2). Further,
defendant claims that the documents did not include a summons or the first page of the
Complaint. (Dkt. #16, Carter Aff't ¶ 4 & Exh.; Dkt. #15, at 3; Dkt. #20 , at 3). The delivery
of this incomplete form for waiver of service of process was confusing to defendant, who had
to consult counsel as to how to complete the form. (Dkt. #15, at 3). In the meantime, it
was discovered that an Order of Default had entered against defendants. (Id.).
In Atlantic Recording Corp., Judge Arterton found that “[l]acking more information,
the [d]efendant’s failure to answer the complaint after proper service can be characterized
as negligent at most, perhaps cutting slightly in favor of the [p]laintiffs, if at all.” 534 F.
Supp. 2d at 281 (emphasis added & citations omitted); see also Pascale v. Great Am. Ins.
Co., No. 3:03 CV 1216 (RNC), 2004 WL 1149488, at *1 (D. Conn. May 20, 2004)(“Defendant
explains that its failure to respond to the complaint in a timely manner resulted from
carelessness or negligence, rather than a deliberate decision.”). Conversely, default resulting
from the failure of proper service of process, without evidence of a deliberate intent, cannot
be characterized as willful. See Atlantic Recording Corp., 534 F. Supp. 2d at 281. Thus,
similar to Atlantic Recording Corp., defendant’s failure to respond to the Complaint after
improper service does not rise above mere negligence, and therefore this first factor does
not weigh in favor of the plaintiff.
The second factor the Court must consider is whether the defendant asserts a
meritorious defense. “[T]his second factor does not demand a high showing.” Id. “A
possible defense is sufficient even if not ultimately persuasive at this stage, so long as there
is something more than mere conclusory denials.” Id. (internal quotations & citations
In its Motion To Set Aside Default, defendant denies "the allegations that it
discriminated against [p]laintiff" based on age. (Dkt. #15, at 3). While simply claiming the
existence of a valid defense does not constitute the assertion of a meritorious defense,
defendant has been diligent in responding to this matter and has also retained counsel to
appear and to present meritorious defenses against claims of age discrimination. (Dkt. #20,
at 3). In its Answer to plaintiff's Complaint (Dkt #21), defendant denies the allegations of
hiring a younger person for the job. (Id. at 4, ¶¶ 22-24). Defendant also denies that plaintiff
met all of the qualifications for the position. (Id. ¶ 28). These additional assertions provide
more than a “mere conclusory denial.” Atlantic Recording Corp, 534 F. Supp. 2d at 281
(internal quotations & citation omitted). Given the low showing that is required, this factor
weighs in favor of setting aside the default.
The final factor to be weighed is whether plaintiff will be prejudiced if entry of default
is set aside. This factor requires more than just delay of plaintiff’s relief. Enron Oil Corp.,
10 F.3d at 98 (citation omitted). Prejudice to the plaintiff can be shown if granting the
Motion to Set Aside Default would “result in the loss of evidence, create increased difficulties
of recovery, or provide opportunity for fraud and collusion.” New York v. Green, 420 F.3d
99, 110 (2d Cir. 2005)["Green"](internal quotations & citations omitted); Atlantic Recording
Corp, 534 F. Supp. 2d at 282 (citation omitted).
In this case, plaintiff does not state how he would be prejudiced if default judgment
was not granted. Plaintiff’s relief has thus far been delayed only a few months, and “delay
alone is not a sufficient basis for establishing prejudice.” Green, 420 F.3d at 110 (internal
quotations & citation omitted). Without a further showing of prejudice, this factor does not
weigh in plaintiff’s favor.
In light of the foregoing analysis, the three determinative factors weigh in favor of
granting the defendant’s Motion to Set Aside Default. This result is consistent with the
Second Circuit’s preference to decide cases on their merits and to reserve default judgment
as a final sanction.
B. MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT
In light of the conclusion reached is Section I.A. supra, plaintiff's Motion for Default
Judgment (Dkt. #17) is granted without prejudice as moot.
C. MOTION FOR APPOINTMENT OF COUNSEL
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1), “[t]he court may request an attorney to represent
any person unable to afford counsel.”
However, “whether appointment of counsel is
necessary rests with the discretion of the court,” In re Martin-Trigona, 737 F.2d 1254, 1260
(2d Cir. 1984)(citation omitted), and if the court determines that a plaintiff cannot afford
counsel, the court must then “determine whether the indigent’s position seems likely to be
of substance.” Hodge v. Police Officers, 802 F.2d 58, 61 (2d Cir. 1986), cert. denied sub.
nom. Hodge v. Colon, 502 U.S. 986 (1991). Additionally, the Second Circuit has made clear
that before an appointment of counsel is even considered, the indigent person must
demonstrate that he is unable to obtain counsel. Id.
In this case, plaintiff has established that he is unable to afford counsel. (See Dkts.
##2, 7; see also Dkt. #22, at 2-3). According to plaintiff, since the commencement of this
case, he has contacted two attorneys, and Connecticut Legal Aid, who either charge too
much or have refused to take his case. (Dkt. #22, at 4-5).
At this very early stage in this case, when defendant has just answered the
Complaint, this Court is not in a position to determine whether plaintiff’s Complaint possesses
likely merit. See Ferrelli v. River Manor Health Care Ctr., 323 F.3d 196, 204 (2d Cir. 2003),
cert. denied, 504 U.S. 1195 (2004).
Furthermore, while plaintiff has contacted these
attorneys and Legal Aid, such attempts were made in October 2011 and January 2012, and
he has not informed the Court of continued attempts to secure counsel. (Dkt. #22, at 5).
Accordingly, plaintiff’s Motion to Appoint Counsel (Dkt. #22) is denied without
prejudice to renew at a later stage of this case.
For the reasons stated above, defendant’s Motion to Set Aside Default (Dkt. #14) is
granted; plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment (Dkt. #17) is denied as moot; and plaintiff’s
Motion to Appoint Counsel (Dkt. #22) is denied without prejudice to renew at a later stage
of this case.
The parties are free to seek the district judge=s review of this recommended ruling.
See 28 U.S.C. ' 636(b)(written objection to ruling must be filed within fourteen
calendar days after service of same); FED. R. CIV. P. 6(a) & 72; Rule 72.2 of the Local
Rule for United States Magistrate Judges, United States District Court for the District of
Connecticut; Small v. Secretary of HHS, 892 F.2d 15, 16 (2d Cir. 1989)(failure to file
timely objection to Magistrate Judge’s recommended ruling may preclude further
appeal to Second Circuit).
Dated at New Haven, Connecticut, this 13th day of August, 2012.
/s/ Joan G. Margolis, USMJ
Joan Glazer Margolis
United States Magistrate Judge
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