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Holland v. Moore

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

November 8, 2017

LARANZO EUGENE HOLLAND, Plaintiff,
v.
ALONDA MOORE, Defendant.

         Proceedings Under 42 U.S.C. §1983

         Before the U.S. Magistrate Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Charles H. Weigle United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Laranzo Eugene Holland commenced this Section 1983 action based on allegations that several corrections officers at Baldwin State Prison, where Plaintiff previously was incarcerated, labeled Plaintiff a snitch and incited other prisoners to attack Plaintiff. See (Doc. 79, p. 2). Before the Court at present are Plaintiff Laranzo Eugene Holland's Motion for Default Judgment, (Doc. 62), and Defendant Alonda Moore's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (Doc. 73). As discussed below, it is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment be DENIED. It is further RECOMMENDED that Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings be GRANTED based on Plaintiff's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies.

         DEFAULT JUDGMENT

         Defendant Alonda Moore was personally served with process in this action by the U.S. Marshals Service on November 28, 2016. (Doc. 41). Initial efforts at service were unsuccessful, as Moore no longer worked at Baldwin State Prison. (Doc. 12). Plaintiff later determined that Moore was employed at Riverbend State Prison (Doc. 19), and a second request for waiver of service was mailed on September 2, 2016. (Doc. 24). When Defendant Moore failed to waive service within the required time period, the Court ordered personal service by the Marshals Service. (Doc. 34). Defendant Moore failed to file a timely answer, and the Clerk of Court subsequently made an entry of default as to Defendant Moore on April 11, 2017, nearly four months after her answer was due.

         On April 24, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Default Judgment against Defendant Moore. (Doc. 62). On May 9, 2017, Defendant Moore filed a one-page, pro se letter, dated December 12, 2016, the substance of which denies many of Plaintiff's factual allegations. (Doc. 65). The letter was docketed as Defendant Moore's Answer.

         On May 15, 2016, Defendant Moore, through counsel, filed a Response in opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment and a Motion for Entry of Default. (Doc. 66). In an affidavit attached to her Response, Defendant Moore describes the circumstances leading to her default. (Doc. 66-1). Defendant affirms that she drafted her letter-Answer in December 2016, after receiving personal service at her residence. (Doc. 66-1, p. 2, ¶ 6). Defendant Moore then attempted, unsuccessfully, to file that letter-Answer at a State courthouse in Milledgeville, Georgia. (Doc. 66-1, p. 2, ¶ 6). Defendant states that she was unable to locate the appropriate federal courthouse. (Doc. 66-1, p. 2, ¶ 6). Defendant also states she was not aware of the consequences of default. (Doc. 66-1, p. 2, ¶ 9). Defendant further notes that her employment at Baldwin State Prison ended on May 16, 2015. (Doc. 66-1, p. 1, ¶ 4). Defendant affirms that she was unaware of the process for requesting state legal representation based on events occurring during her prior term of employment with the Georgia Department of Corrections. (Doc. 66-1, p. 2, ¶ 9).

         Defendant first spoke with her current legal counsel on May 10, 2017. (Doc. 66-1, p. 2, ¶ 9). Since that time, Defendant has attempted to litigate the merits of this case, including by asserting meritorious defenses in her pending Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.

         Eleventh Circuit case law establishes a “strong policy of determining cases on their merits, ” In re Worldwide Web Sys., Inc., 328 F.3d 1291, 1295 (11th Cir. 2003), and as a result, defaults are viewed with disfavor. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(c) provides that the Court may set aside any entry of default for “good cause, ” which generally requires the consideration of factors such as: “whether the default was culpable or willful, whether setting [the default] aside would prejudice the adversary, and whether the defaulting party presents a meritorious defense.” Compania Interamericana Export-Import, S.A. v. Compania Dominicana de Aviacion, 88 F.3d 948, 951-52 (11th Cir. 1996).

         The record in this action does not show that Defendant Moore acted culpably or willfully in incurring a default. Defendant Moore attempted to draft and to file a pro se Answer during the ordinary response period, but was failed to file that Answer in the proper forum. Defendant Moore's affirmation that she was not knowledgeable of the availability and procedure for obtaining post-employment legal representation is credible. Finally, Defendant Moore was able to obtain representation and to file an Answer within six months of service, and within one month of this Court's entry of default against her. While the record shows that Defendant Moore was perhaps negligent in failing to take adequate steps to avoid default, Defendant Moore did not act willfully or culpably.

         The record also fails to show that Plaintiff will suffer prejudice if the Court sets aside the default. Due to delays associated with service difficulties, this Court was not able resolve two motions to dismiss filed by Defendant Moore's former co-defendants until August 29, 2017. (Doc. 80). Additionally, discovery was stayed in this action pending the resolution of those prior motions to dismiss, and discovery is currently stayed pending the resolution of Defendant Moore's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (Doc. 76). Given that this action is still in a relatively early stage, and that discovery is and has been stayed, Plaintiff will not be prejudiced by a resolut ion of this act ion on its merits.

         Finally, a further factor in favor of setting aside the default in this action is Defendant Moore's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, which raises a number of meritorious defenses. (Doc. 73). More specifically, Defendant Moore's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings raises that same defenses that Defendant Moore's former co-defendants raised in their pre-Answer Motions to Dismiss-Motions which the Court granted. (Doc. 80).

         In summary, because the record fails to show that Defendant Moore acted culpably or willfully in incurring a default, because it does not appear that Plaintiff will be prejudiced by setting aside the default, and because the Eleventh Circuit's strong policy of merit-based resolution weighs in favor of a consideration of Defendant Moore's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, it is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's Motion ...


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