United States District Court, D. New Jersey
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A,
because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis
and is incarcerated, the Court screened Plaintiff's
complaint for dismissal and determined that the complaint
states an Eighth Amendment excessive force claim and state
law assault and battery claim against Defendants Mack,
Miller, and certain Does; an Eighth Amendment failure to
intervene claim against Defendant Miller and certain Does;
and an Eighth Amendment medical claim against other Defendant
Does. (Docket No. 5.)
Currently pending are four motions filed by Plaintiff for
default judgment against Defendants Mack and Miller.
Plaintiff seeks $1.0 million plus 6% interest and
costs. (Docket No. 14, 20, 21, 22.)
pending is the motion of Defendants to vacate default and
extend the time for them to respond to Plaintiff's
complaint. (Docket No. 29.)
Summonses were returned as executed as to Defendants on July
24, 2018. (Docket No. 10, 11.)
Because Defendants failed to appear in the action and respond
to Plaintiff's complaint, at Plaintiff's request, the
Clerk entered default on October 5, 2018.
Defendants request that the Court set aside the Clerk's
entry of default, deny Plaintiff's motions for default
judgment, and permit them leave to respond to Plaintiff's
complaint. Defendants explain that pursuant to internal
protocols of the Office of the Attorney General, as well as
those of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, individual
defendants who are named and served in a lawsuit must
formally request legal representation. Those requests were
not received by the Attorney General's Office until
January 18, 2019. Representation of State employees by the AG
is not automatic, see N.J.S.A. 59:10A-2, et seq.,
and Defendants' representation request required review.
Three days later, once the AG's office determined it
would represent Defendants, they filed their motion to vacate
default and extend the time to file their answer or otherwise
respond to Plaintiff's complaint.
noted above, entry of default judgment requires two steps -
first, the Clerk must enter default under Rule 55(a), and
then either the Clerk or the Court may enter default judgment
under Rule 55(b). When default has been entered and before
default judgment has been entered, "[t]he court may set
aside an entry of default for good cause." Fed.R.Civ.P.
55(c). "A decision to set aside an entry of default . .
. 'is left primarily to the discretion of the district
court.'" Bailey v. United Airlines, 279
F.3d 194, 204 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Hritz v. Woma
Corp., 732 F.2d 1178, 1180 (3d Cir. 1984)) .
same standard applies when determining whether to enter
default judgment under Rule 55(b) or set aside an entry of
default under Rule 55(c). See Chamberlain v.
Giampapa, 210 F.3d 154, 164 (3d Cir. 2000) (discussing
the standard for entering default judgment and citing
United States v. $55, 518.05 in U.S.
Currency, 728 F.2d 192, 195 (3d Cir. 1984), which
discusses the standard for setting aside an entry of
either situation, the Court must consider three factors:
"(1) prejudice to the plaintiff if default is denied;
(2) whether the defendant appears to have a litigable
defense; and (3) whether defendant's delay is due to
culpable conduct." Id. (citing $55, 518.05
in U.S. Currency, 728 F.2d at 195). In conducting
this analysis, the Court must also consider that default
judgments are generally disfavored in the Third Circuit, as
they prevent claims from being determined on the merits.
See Budget Blinds, Inc. v. White, 536 F.3d 244, 258
(3d Cir. 2008) (citing $55, 518.05 in U.S.
Currency, 728 F.2d at 194-95).
Additionally, when considering an application for entry of a
default judgment under Rule 55(b)(2), the Court is
"required to exercise 'sound judicial
discretion' in deciding whether the judgment should be
entered [and] Mt]his element of discretion makes it clear
that the party making the request is not entitled to a
default judgment as of right, even when defendant is
technically in default and that fact has been noted under
Rule 55(a)." Franklin v. National Maritime Union of
America, 1991 WL 131182, *1 (D.N.J. 1991) (quoting 10
Wright, Miller & Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure
§ 2685 (1983)).
Court will grant Defendants' motion to vacate default and
deny Plaintiff's motions for default judgment for the
following reasons: (1) good cause exists for Defendants'
delay in responding the Plaintiff's complaint; (2)
Defendants have valid defenses to Plaintiff's claims; (3)
Plaintiff has not stated how he would be prejudiced if the
Clerk's entry of default is vacated; and (4) Plaintiff
has not articulated the substantive legal basis for a finding
in his favor on this Eighth Amendment and other claims.
IT IS on this 25th ...