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Paris v. Pennsauken School District

United States District Court, Third Circuit

August 9, 2013

SHARON PARIS and CRAIG PARIS, Plaintiffs,
v.
PENNSAUKEN SCHOOL DISTRICT, PENNSAUKEN SCHOOL BOARD OF EDUCATION, TAMEKA MATTHEWS, MARIANNE ANTCZAK, and JANETTE BRUNSON, Defendants.

SHARON AND CRAIG PARIS, PENNSAUKEN NJ, Pro Se Plaintiffs.

RICHARD L. GOLDSTEIN, ESQ., MARSHALL, DENNEHEY, WARNER, COLEMAN & GOGGIN, P.A., CHERRY HILL, NJ, Attorney for Defendants Pennsauken School District, Pennsauken, School Board of Education, Tameka Matthews, Marianne Antczak, and, Janette Brunson.

OPINION

NOEL L. HILLMAN, District Judge.

Presently before the Court are Defendants Pennsauken School District and Pennsauken Board of Education's (hereinafter "the Pennsauken School Defendants") Motion to Vacate Clerk's Entry of Default and Plaintiffs' Motion for Default Judgment as to all Defendants. For the reasons that follow, the Motion to Vacate Clerk's Entry of Default will be granted, [1] and Plaintiffs' Motion for Default Judgment as to all Defendants will be denied.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiffs Sharon Paris and Craig Paris, a married couple, reside in Pennsauken, New Jersey and are both teachers employed by the Pennsauken School District. Individual Defendants Tameka Matthews, Marianne Antczak, and Janette Brunson (hereinafter "the Individual Defendants") are also teachers in the Pennsauken School District.

Sharon Paris was formerly a teacher at the Baldwin School, where she was the only African-American teacher on staff. (Compl. at 2.) In the Complaint, Sharon alleges that she was the victim of repeated harassment and discriminatory behavior while employed at the Baldwin School. More specifically, Sharon avers that the harassment and discrimination arose as a result of her witnessing another teacher, Defendant Brunson, abuse children in her class. (Id. at 4.) After witnessing the alleged conduct, Sharon participated in an investigation, in which she spoke unfavorably of Brunson and apparently reported her abusive conduct. (Id. at 3, 4.) Sharon avers that due to her participation in the investigation, Brunson and other members of the Baldwin School staff began to retaliate against her by ignoring her formal complaints, disrupting her classroom protocol and physical layout, calling her derogatory names, sending harassing letters to her and her husband, and engaging in overall disrespectful and intimidating behavior. (Id. at 3-5.) Sharon alleges that, as a result of this conduct in her workplace, her physical and mental health began to deteriorate and she developed severe anxiety. (Id. at 5.) Sharon thereafter resigned from her position at the Baldwin School in the summer of 2012. (Id.)

On November 30, 2012, Sharon and Craig filed a Complaint against the Pennsauken School Defendants and the Individual Defendants, alleging the following five counts: (1) violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 based on racial discrimination; (2) common law negligence; (3) civil conspiracy; (4) defamation of character; and (5) harassment. [Docket No. 1.] Summonses were issued as to all Defendants on this date. [Docket No. 2] The Pennsauken School Defendants were served on December 18, 2012, Defendant Brunson was served on December 27, 2012, and Defendant Tameka Matthews was served on January 2, 2013.[2] [Docket No. 5-4; Docket No. 12-3.] The Pennsauken School Defendants failed to answer or otherwise respond to Plaintiffs' Complaint within the requisite twenty-one days, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(a)(1), and Plaintiffs therefore requested default to be entered in their favor as to these Defendants on January 17, 2013. [Docket No. 4.] The Clerk of Court entered default against the Pennsauken School Defendants for failure to plead or otherwise defend on January 22, 2013. [Docket No. 4.] Shortly thereafter, the Pennsauken School Defendants filed a Motion to Vacate the Clerk's Entry of Default, alleging that they had justifiable reasons for missing the response deadline. [Docket No. 5.] On February 6, 2013, Plaintiffs filed a Response in Opposition to the Pennsauken School Defendants' Motion to Vacate Default, and likewise requested the Clerk to enter a default against the Individual Defendants. [Docket Nos. 6 & 7.] Thereafter, all of the Defendants jointly submitted a letter brief to the Court in which they opposed entry of default as to the Individual Defendants and again expressed why they believed the Court should vacate the Clerk's entry of default against the Pennsauken School Defendants. [Docket Nos. 8 & 9.] On February 15, 2013, Plaintiffs filed a Sur-Reply to Defendants' opposition papers.[3] [Docket No. 10.] At this point in time, the Clerk of Court has not entered default against the Individual Defendants. While Defendants' Motion to Vacate Clerk's Entry of Default was pending, Plaintiffs also filed a Motion for Default Judgment against all Defendants on July 18, 2013. All Defendants filed a Response in Opposition to the Motion for Default Judgment on July 24, 2013 [Docket No. 13], and Plaintiffs submitted a Reply[4] on August 1, 2013.[5] [Docket No. 14.]

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Default judgment is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55, which states, in relevant part, as follows:

When 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, the clerk must enter the party's default.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(a). After an entry of default is entered pursuant to Rule 55(a), the plaintiff may seek the court's entry of default judgment under either Rule 55(b)(1) or Rule 55(b)(2). Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Starlight Ballroom Dance Club, Inc. , 175 F.Appx. 519, 521 (3d Cir. 2006)(citing 10A Wright, Miller & Kane, Fed. Prac. & Proc. § 2682 at 13 (3d ed. 1998)). After default judgment is entered, "the factual allegations of the complaint, except those relating to the amount of damages, will be taken as true." Comdyne I, Inc. v. Corbin , 908 F.2d 1142, 1149 (3d Cir. 1990)(citing 10 Wright, Miller & Kane, Fed. Prac. & Proc. § 2688 at 444 (2d ed. 1983)).

Rule 55 of the Federal Civil Rules likewise provides the mechanism for setting aside the entry of default. More specifically, Rule 55(c) provides as follows: "The court may set aside an entry of default for good cause[.]" Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(c). In determining whether good cause exists to set aside an entry of default, the court should consider four factors:

(1) Whether the defendant has a meritorious defense; (2) whether the plaintiff would be prejudiced by vacating the default; (3) whether the default resulted from the defendant's culpable conduct; and ...

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