JONES v. GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS et al
ORDER granting 5 Motion Relief from Default; denying as moot 12 Motion for Default Judgment; denying as moot 13 Amended Motion for Default Judgment. Ordered by US DISTRICT JUDGE HUGH LAWSON on 5/8/2018. (aks)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
ALFRED D. JONES,
Civil Action No. 7:17-CV-202 (HL)
GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF
CORRECTIONS and JOHN DOE,
Before the Court is the motion of Defendant Georgia Department of
Corrections (“GDOC”) for relief from default. (Doc. 5). Plaintiff Alfred D. Jones, an
inmate of GDOC, filed this lawsuit on December 6, 2017 pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, alleging that GDOC and John Doe, an unknown correctional officer,
violated his constitutional rights. Plaintiff personally served GDOC on March 3,
2018, meaning that an answer or other responsive pleading was due to be filed
by March 26, 2018. GDOC defaulted. On March 30, 2018, upon realizing the
error, GDOC filed the present motion for relief from the entry of default. Finding
good cause to set aside the entry of default, the Court GRANTS GDOC’s motion.
Plaintiff filed this § 1983 action on December 6, 2017, alleging generally
that GDOC and Defendant John Doe violated his rights under the Fourth, Fifth,
Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. (Doc. 1, ¶ III). According to the Complaint,
on December 7, 2015, while incarcerated at an unspecified GDOC facility, 1
Plaintiff was subjected to an excessive use of force by John Doe, an employee of
GDOC. (Id. at V). John Doe allegedly shot Plaintiff in the face with a pepper
spray gun from a kneeling position in violation of GDOC policy. (Id. at ¶ V). As a
result of the incident, Plaintiff suffered an injury to his right eye and eventually
lost the use of that eye. (Id.).
On March 3, 2018, Plaintiff personally served GDOC by delivering a copy
of the lawsuit to Bryan S. Wilson, an attorney employed by GDOC’s Office of
Legal Services who is authorized to accept service on behalf of Gregory Dozier,
GDOC’s Commissioner. (Doc. 5-2, ¶¶ 2, 4, 5). When officers and employees of
GDOC are sued, the Office of Legal Services receives service of the lawsuit and
then forwards the lawsuit to the Attorney General’s office along with a request for
representation. (Id. at ¶ 6). A request for representation in this case was provided
to the Attorney General’s office on March 5, 2018. (Id.).
On March 28, 2018, two days after the deadline to file an answer or to
otherwise respond to Plaintiff’s Complaint, GDOC learned that due to a
“breakdown in communication,” the Attorney General’s office had not yet
At the time of filing his Complaint, Plaintiff could not identify either the facility in
which he was incarcerated at the time of the alleged incident or the individuals
involved. (Doc. 1, ¶ V). Plaintiff believed that the events occurred at either
Valdosta State Prison or Macon State Prison. Plaintiff has since filed a motion to
amend his complaint to clarify that the purported events transpired at Augusta
State Medical Prison. (Doc. 9). That motion remains pending.
assigned an attorney to represent GDOC in this case. (Id. at ¶ 7). As soon as the
error was discovered, an attorney was assigned, who promptly filed the foregoing
Motion for Relief from Default on March 30, 2018. (Doc. 5).
Rule 55, which governs the entry of default, provides that when a
defendant “against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to
plead or otherwise defend, and that failure is shown by an affidavit or otherwise,
the clerk must enter the party’s default.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(a). Rule 55 “mandates
the entry of default so that ‘the adversary process [will not be] halted because of
an essentially unresponsive party.’” Perez v. Wells Fargo N.A., 774 F.3d 1329,
1338 (11th Cir. 2014) (alterations adopted) (quoting H.F. Livermore Corp. v.
Aktiengesellschaft Gebruder Loepfe, 432 F.3d 689, 691 (D.C. Cir. 1970) (per
curium)). While typically the clerk of court will enter default upon the application
of the non-defaulting party, “a defendant who fails to answer within the time
specified by the rules is in default even if that fact is not officially noted.” 10A
Charles Allen Wright et al., Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ. § 2692 (4th ed. 2018).
Accordingly, the defendant in default “must request that the default be ‘excused’
and secure leave to answer before a responsive pleading will be recognized.” Id.
“The court may set aside an entry of default for good cause.” Fed. R. Civ.
P. 55(c). “Good cause” is a “mutable standard . . . [and] is not susceptible to a
precise formula, but some general guidelines are commonly applied.” Compania
Interamericana Export-Import, S.A. v. Compania Dominicana de Aviacion, 88
F.3d 948, 951 (11th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). When determining whether
good cause exists to set aside an entry of default, courts may consider, among
other factors, (1) whether the default was culpable or willful; (2) whether setting
aside the default would prejudice the plaintiff; (3) whether the defaulting party has
a meritorious defense; (4) whether the public interest is implicated; (5) whether
the defaulting party suffered a significant financial loss; (6) whether the defaulting
party acted promptly to correct the default. Id. The factors themselves are not
“talismanic”; but “[w]hatever factors are employed, the imperative is that they be
regarded as a means of identifying circumstances which warrant the finding of
‘good cause’ to set aside a default.” Id. (quoting Dierschke v. O’Cheskey, 975
F.2d 181, 184 (5th Cir. 1992)) (quotation marks omitted).
As a general principal, “defaults are seen with disfavor because of the
strong policy of determining cases on their merits.” Fla. Physician’s Ins. Co., Inc.
v. Ehlers, 8 F.3d 780, 783 (11th Cir. 1993). “Action on a motion to set aside
default is within the discretion of the district court.” Robinson v. United States,
734 F.2d 735, 739 (11th Cir. 1984). Nevertheless, “if a party willfully defaults by
displaying either an intentional or reckless disregard for the judicial proceedings,
the court need make no other findings in denying relief.” Compania
Interamericana Export-Import, S.A., 88 F.3d at 951-52.
The facts here militate in favor of setting aside the entry of default. First,
there is no evidence that GDOC willfully failed to respond timely to Plaintiff’s
Complaint. Bryan Wilson, an attorney employed by GDOC’s Office of Legal
Services, accepted service on behalf of Gregory Dozier, GDOC’s Commissioner,
on March 3, 2018. (Doc. 5-2, ¶¶ 2, 4, 5). As is customary when an officer or
employee of GDOC is sued, 2 a request for representation was then forwarded to
the Attorney General’s office on March 5, 2018. (Id. at ¶ 6). For reasons that
remain unclear, an attorney was not assigned to the case until after the deadline
to file an answer or other responsive pleading had passed. (Id. at ¶ 7). GDOC did
not learn of the missed deadline until March 28, 2018, two days after the
expiration of the time to respond. (Id.). Prior to that time, GDOC had a good faith
belief that it was being represented by the Attorney General’s office. (Id.).
GDOC worked promptly to remedy the error as soon as it was discovered.
GDOC filed its Motion for Relief from Default (Doc. 5) on March 30, 2018, four
days after its answer was due and before Plaintiff moved the Clerk for an entry of
default. Then, a week later, GDOC filed its motion to dismiss (Doc. 6). Despite
Plaintiff’s conclusory argument to the contrary, it is clear that under the
circumstances GDOC properly followed its internal protocol for transmitting the
lawsuit to the Attorney General’s office and that through GDOC’s diligence in
GDOC is no stranger to prisoner litigation and receives notification of hundreds
of lawsuits each year. (Doc. 5-2, ¶ 3).
following up with the Attorney General the discovery of the missed deadline
came to light.
Further, there is no evidence that Plaintiff will be prejudiced by setting
aside the default. Plaintiff argues that GDOC has shown reckless disregard for
the judicial proceedings and has acted in an overly litigious manner by filing not
only the motion to set aside the entry of default but also a motion to dismiss and
a motion to stay discovery. The Court disagrees with Plaintiff’s characterization of
GDOC’s response to the problem at hand. It is apparent that GDOC responded
swiftly to remedy its error so as to avoid any prejudice to Plaintiff. The Court
likewise is not convinced by Plaintiff’s unsupported argument that the public
interest is somehow implicated in this case.
Finally, it is evident that GDOC has a meritorious defense to this lawsuit.
GDOC is an agency of the state, and it is well established that a state and its
agencies are not “persons” who may be sued under § 1983. Will v. Michigan
Dep’t of State Policy, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989); see also Stevens v. Gay, 864 F.2d
113, 114-15 (11th Cir. 1989) (explaining that the Eleventh Amendment bars a
plaintiff’s § 1983 claims against the State of Georgia and GDOC for both
monetary damages and injunctive relief). While Plaintiff certainly will be afforded
the opportunity to respond to GDOC’s immunity argument in relation to GDOC’s
pending motion to dismiss, for the purpose of this motion, the Court finds that the
defense itself is valid and weighs in favor of setting aside the entry of default.
Upon consideration of the relevant factors, the Court concludes that GDOC
has set forth good cause for setting aside the entry of default. The Court
accordingly grants GDOC’s motion.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendant’s Motion for
Relief from Default. (Doc. 5). Plaintiff’s Motion for Default Judgment (Doc. 12)
and Amended Motion for Default Judgment (Doc. 13) are DENIED AS MOOT.
SO ORDERED this 8th day of May, 2018.
s/ Hugh Lawson________________
HUGH LAWSON, SENIOR JUDGE
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