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Graves v. Vasquez-Pillacela

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 10, 2018



          Honorable James B. Clark, III United States Magistrate Judge.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court by way of Plaintiff Maurice Graves (“Plaintiff” or “Mr. Graves”) motion for default judgment [ECF No. 9]. Plaintiff seeks an award in the amount $175, 000.00 for past and future pain and suffering. Plaintiff's motion is unopposed.

         This Report and Recommendation is issued pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned respectfully recommends that the Court enter an Order granting Plaintiff's motion for default judgment. It is further recommended that the Court grant Plaintiff an award of $55, 000.00 for past and future pain and suffering.


         On June 7, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Defendant Efren Vasquez-Pillacela (“Defendant”). ECF No. 1. The event giving rise to this action occurred on June 7, 2015, when Mr. Graves was a passenger in a motor vehicle owned and operated by Sandy Henry (the “Henry vehicle”). Compl. ¶¶ 4, 7. While traveling in the Henry vehicle on interstate 280 in Newark, New Jersey, Mr. Graves was involved in a motor vehicle accident with a vehicle driven by Defendant, which allegedly resulted in Mr. Graves suffering severe and permanent injuries. Id. ¶¶ 8-17. According to Plaintiff's Complaint, Defendant's reckless, careless and negligent driving caused the accident. Id. ¶ 16.

         Plaintiff filed the executed proof of service with the summons to Defendant, indicating Defendant had been personally served with the Complaint on September 13, 2017. ECF No. 4. Plaintiff's Complaint went unanswered, and consequently, on November 9, 2017, the Clerk entered default against Defendant. On November 8, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Default Judgment against Defendant. On May 8, 2018, the Court issued a Letter Order scheduling a proof hearing to determine the proper amount of damages to be assessed in conjunction with Plaintiff's application for a default judgment. ECF No. 14. In the Letter Order, the Court directed Plaintiff to serve a copy of said Order on Defendant, giving Defendant another opportunity to make an appearance and litigate the claims against him.[1] Id. On May 22, 2018, the Court conducted a proof hearing to determine Plaintiff's damages. Defendant did not attend the hearing, nor did he file any papers in connection therewith.

         I. DISCUSSION

         Upon entry of default, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b) permits a party to seek entry of default judgment against a defendant that fails to appear in an action. Notably, because entry of default requires “that the factual allegations of the complaint, except those relating to the amount of damages, . . . be taken as true, ” the party seeking entry of default judgment may proceed with limited proofs. Malik v. Hannah, 661 F.Supp.2d 485, 490 (D.N.J. 2009) (quoting Comdyne I., Inc. v. Corbin, 908 F.2d 1142, 1149 (3d Cir.1990) (internal quotations omitted)). Notably, upon entry of default and a party's submission of proofs related to damages, the decision of whether to enter default judgment against a party “‘is left primarily to the discretion of the district court.'” Id. (quoting Hritz v. Woma Corp., 732 F.2d 1178, 1180 (3d Cir. 1984)).

         A. Default Judgment

         While entry of default judgment is left largely to the discretion of the Court, prior to entry, the Court should consider: “(1) whether the party subject to default has a meritorious defense, (2) the prejudice suffered by the party seeking default, ” and (3) whether the defaulting party's conduct is culpable or excusable. Id. (quoting Doug Brady, Inc. v. N.J. Bldg. Laborers Statewide Funds, 250 F.R.D. 171, 177 (D.N.J. 2008) (internal citations omitted)).

         Here, this Court finds good cause to recommend entry of a default judgment against Defendant. First, the current record does not show any meritorious defenses. Because Defendant did not respond, the Court cannot determine whether Defendant had meritorious defenses that are not reflected in the record. The Court therefore concludes that Defendant has no meritorious defense. See Teamsters Pension Fund of Philadelphia & Vicinity v. Am. Helper, Inc., No. CIV. 11-624 JBS/JS, 2011 WL 4729023, at *4 (D.N.J. Oct. 5, 2011).[2] Second, it is clear that Plaintiff has been prejudiced by Defendant's failure to answer because Plaintiff has been unable to move forward with the case and has been delayed in seeking relief. See Malik v. Hannah, 661 F.Supp.2d 485, 490-491 (D.N.J. 2009). Finally, where, as here, Defendant has failed to respond, there is a presumption of culpability. See Teamsters, 2011 WL 4729023, at *4. Accordingly, the undersigned recommends that this Court enter default judgment against Defendant.

         B. Amount of Damages

         Having found that entry of default judgment is appropriate, the Court now turns to the calculation of Mr. Graves' damages. Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2), “[t]he court may conduct hearings . . . when, to enter or effectuate judgment, it needs to (A) conduct an accounting; (B) determine the amount of damages; (C) establish the truth of any allegation by evidence; or (D) investigate any other matter.” Id.

         On May 22, 2018, the Court conducted a proof hearing to determine the amount of Plaintiff's damages. At the hearing, the Court heard testimony from Mr. Graves, as well as limited argument from Mr. Graves' counsel. During the hearing, counsel for Plaintiff submitted a declaration of Getahun Kifle, M.D (“Dr. Kifle”) and a comprehensive narrative report on Mr. Graves. See ECF No. 11. Mr. Graves testified that as a result of the automobile accident he sustained injuries to his neck, left shoulder, left knee and lower back. He also claims that he suffered from dizziness. A few days following the accident, Mr. Graves was treated at Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. Mr. Graves testified that during the hospital visit he was prescribed muscle relaxers and the doctor recommended physical ...

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