United States District Court, D. New Jersey
OPINION AND ORDER
B. CLARK, III United States Magistrate Judge
MATTER comes before the Court on a Motion by
Defendant, Robert Grady, to vacate the default entered on
February 27, 2017 [Dkt. No. 11]. For the reasons set forth
below, Robert Grady's Motion to vacate the entry of
default is GRANTED.
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
filed his Complaint on January 6, 2017, initiating a
deprivation of rights action against Defendants Detective
Robert O'Neal, Sergeant John Campo, and Assistant
Prosecutor Robert Grady (“Grady”). [See
Dkt. No. 1]. On February 1, 2017, Grady was personally served
the Summons and Complaint. [See Dkt. No. 9]. On
February 27, 2017, having received no response to the
Complaint, Plaintiff filed a request for entry of default
against Grady, and default was entered on the same date.
[See Dkt. Nos. 10, 11]. Subsequently, on February
28, 2017, Grady made his first appearance in this action and
filed the present Motion to vacate the default entered
against him. [See Dkt. Nos. 12, 13]. Plaintiff
opposes the Motion to vacate and argues it should be denied.
[See Dkt. No. 14]. In support of his Motion, Grady
claims that the entry of default should be vacated because
Plaintiff will not suffer any prejudice, Grady has a
meritorious defense for failure to state a claim, and the
claim is barred by offered immunity. [See Dkt. No.
13]. However, Plaintiff opposes the Motion and argues that it
should be denied because Grady “fails to proffer a
meritorious defense, fails to demonstrate that Grady's
default was ‘excusable, ' and improperly relies on
an unsworn ‘certification.'” [See
Dkt. No. 14].
Grady's Motion to Vacate the Entry of Default [Dkt. No.
entry of default and default judgment are governed by Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 55. The power to grant default
judgment “has generally been considered an
‘inherent power, ' governed not by rule or statute
but by the control necessarily vested in courts to manage
their own affairs so as to achieve the orderly and
expeditious disposition of cases.” Hritz v. Woma
Corp., 732 F.2d 1178, 1181 (3d Cir. 1984) (citations
omitted). Because a default judgment prevents a
plaintiff's claims from being decided on the merits,
“this court does not favor entry of defaults or default
judgments.” United States v. $55, 518.05 in U.S.
Currency, 728 F.2d 192, 194 (3d Cir. 1984). Accordingly,
the Third Circuit has clarified that, while “the entry
of a default judgment is left primarily to the discretion of
the district court, ” this “discretion is not
without limits, ” and cases should be “disposed
of on the merits whenever practicable.” Hritz,
732 F.2d at 1181 (citations omitted); see also $55,
518.05 in U.S. Currency, 728 F.2d at 194-95.
to Rule 55(c), “[t]he court may set aside an entry of
default for good cause.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(c). In
exercising its discretion to vacate the entry of default, the
Court must consider three factors: “(1) whether the
plaintiff will be prejudiced; (2) whether the defendant has a
meritorious defense; and (3) whether the default was a result
of the defendant's culpable conduct.” Budget
Blinds, Inc. v. White, 536 F.3d 244, 255 (3d Cir. 2008)
(citing $55, 518.05 in U.S. Currency, 728 F.2d at
doubts in this inquiry are “to be resolved in favor of
the party moving to set aside the default judgment so that
cases may be decided on their merits.” Ford v.
Consigned Debts & Collections, Inc., No. 09-3102,
2010 WL 2758182, at *2 (D.N.J. July 12, 2010) (citing
$55, 518.05 in U.S. Currency, 728 F.2d at 194-95).
“‘[M]atters involving large sums should not be
determined by default judgment if it can reasonably be
avoided, ' since ‘the interests of justice are best
served by a trial on the merits.'” Livingston
Powdered Metal, Inc. v. N.L.R.B., 669 F.2d 133, 136-37
(3d Cir. 1982) (quoting Tozer v. Charles A. Krause
Milling Co., 189 F.2d 242, 245 (3d Cir. 1951)).
Third Circuit “consider[s] the meritorious-defense
factor the ‘threshold issue. . . .'”
Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Starlight Ballroom Dance
Club, Inc., 175 F.App'x 519, 522 (3d Cir. 2006)
(quoting Hritz, 732 F.2d at 1181). The defendant is
required to “set forth with some specificity the
grounds for his defense.” Id. (citation
omitted). The court then “look[s] at the substance of
that defense to determine whether it is meritorious.”
Id. (citation omitted). However, the court
“need not decide the legal issue' at this stage of
review.” Id. (quoting Emcasco Ins. Co. v.
Sambrick, 834 F.2d 71, 74 (3d Cir. 1987)).
Grady asserts that the entry of default should be vacated
because he has a meritorious defense to raise in opposition
to Plaintiff's claims. According to Grady, he is entitled
to absolute prosecutorial immunity against Plaintiff's
false arrest and malicious prosecution allegations. Grady
argues that acts undertaken by a prosecutor in preparing for
the initiation of judicial proceedings or trial are entitled
to the protections of absolute immunity. [See Dkt.
Nos. 13, 17.] Furthermore, Grady argues that in the unlikely
event that absolute immunity does not cover all claims
asserted against him, he would then assert the defense of
qualified immunity in a subsequent motion or submission.
[See Dkt. No. 17]. Grady claims that qualified
immunity shields government officials from liability for
civil damages as long as their conduct does not violate a
clearly established constitutional right of which a
reasonable person should have known. Id. While
Plaintiff contends that absolute immunity is not applicable
to this case, Plaintiff has not presented sufficient evidence
to lead the Court to the same conclusion. Accordingly, the
Court finds that Grady's claim that he is immune from
civil liability, under absolute or qualified immunity, is
enough to consider its defense meritorious at this phase of
a defendant's conduct culpable, “more than mere
negligence [must] be demonstrated.” Hritz, 732
F.2d at 1183. “Reckless disregard for repeated
communications from plaintiffs and the court ... can satisfy
the culpable conduct standard.” Id. Culpable
conduct, in this context, “is conduct that is taken
willfully or in bad ...