United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division
ALFRED D. JONES, Plaintiff,
GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS and JOHN DOE, Defendants.
LAWSON, SENIOR JUDGE.
the Court is the motion of Defendant Georgia Department of
Corrections (“GDOC”) for relief from default.
(Doc. 5). Plaintiff Alfred D. Jones, an inmate of GDOC, filed
this lawsuit on December 6, 2017 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983, alleging that GDOC and John Doe, an unknown
correctional officer, violated his constitutional rights.
Plaintiff personally served GDOC on March 3, 2018, meaning
that an answer or other responsive pleading was due to be
filed by March 26, 2018. GDOC defaulted. On March 30, 2018,
upon realizing the error, GDOC filed the present motion for
relief from the entry of default. Finding good cause to set
aside the entry of default, the Court GRANTS
filed this § 1983 action on December 6, 2017, alleging
generally that GDOC and Defendant John Doe violated his
rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth
Amendments. (Doc. 1, ¶ III). According to the Complaint,
on December 7, 2015, while incarcerated at an unspecified
GDOC facility, Plaintiff was subjected to an excessive use
of force by John Doe, an employee of GDOC. (Id. at
V). John Doe allegedly shot Plaintiff in the face with a
pepper spray gun from a kneeling position in violation of
GDOC policy. (Id. at ¶ V). As a result of the
incident, Plaintiff suffered an injury to his right eye and
eventually lost the use of that eye. (Id.).
March 3, 2018, Plaintiff personally served GDOC by delivering
a copy of the lawsuit to Bryan S. Wilson, an attorney
employed by GDOC's Office of Legal Services who is
authorized to accept service on behalf of Gregory Dozier,
GDOC's Commissioner. (Doc. 5-2, ¶¶ 2, 4, 5).
When officers and employees of GDOC are sued, the Office of
Legal Services receives service of the lawsuit and then
forwards the lawsuit to the Attorney General's office
along with a request for representation. (Id. at
¶ 6). A request for representation in this case was
provided to the Attorney General's office on March 5,
March 28, 2018, two days after the deadline to file an answer
or to otherwise respond to Plaintiff's Complaint, GDOC
learned that due to a “breakdown in communication,
” the Attorney General's office had not yet
assigned an attorney to represent GDOC in this case.
(Id. at ¶ 7). As soon as the error was
discovered, an attorney was assigned, who promptly filed the
foregoing Motion for Relief from Default on March 30, 2018.
55, which governs the entry of default, provides that when a
defendant “against whom a judgment for affirmative
relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend, and
that failure is shown by an affidavit or otherwise, the clerk
must enter the party's default.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
55(a). Rule 55 “mandates the entry of default so that
‘the adversary process [will not be] halted because of
an essentially unresponsive party.'” Perez v.
Wells Fargo N.A., 774 F.3d 1329, 1338 (11th Cir. 2014)
(alterations adopted) (quoting H.F. Livermore Corp. v.
Aktiengesellschaft Gebruder Loepfe, 432 F.3d 689, 691
(D.C. Cir. 1970) (per curium)). While typically the clerk of
court will enter default upon the application of the
non-defaulting party, “a defendant who fails to answer
within the time specified by the rules is in default even if
that fact is not officially noted.” 10A Charles Allen
Wright et al., Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ. §
2692 (4th ed. 2018). Accordingly, the defendant in default
“must request that the default be ‘excused'
and secure leave to answer before a responsive pleading will
be recognized.” Id.
court may set aside an entry of default for good
cause.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(c). “Good cause” is
a “mutable standard . . . [and] is not susceptible to a
precise formula, but some general guidelines are commonly
applied.” Compania Interamericana
Export-Import, S.A. v. Compania Dominicana de Aviacion,
88 F.3d 948, 951 (11th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). When
determining whether good cause exists to set aside an entry
of default, courts may consider, among other factors, (1)
whether the default was culpable or willful; (2) whether
setting aside the default would prejudice the plaintiff; (3)
whether the defaulting party has a meritorious defense; (4)
whether the public interest is implicated; (5) whether the
defaulting party suffered a significant financial loss; (6)
whether the defaulting party acted promptly to correct the
default. Id. The factors themselves are not
“talismanic”; but “[w]hatever factors are
employed, the imperative is that they be regarded as a means
of identifying circumstances which warrant the finding of
‘good cause' to set aside a default.”
Id. (quoting Dierschke v. O'Cheskey,
975 F.2d 181, 184 (5th Cir. 1992)) (quotation marks omitted).
general principal, “defaults are seen with disfavor
because of the strong policy of determining cases on their
merits.” Fla. Physician's Ins. Co., Inc. v.
Ehlers, 8 F.3d 780, 783 (11th Cir. 1993). “Action
on a motion to set aside default is within the discretion of
the district court.” Robinson v. United
States, 734 F.2d 735, 739 (11th Cir. 1984).
Nevertheless, “if a party willfully defaults by
displaying either an intentional or reckless disregard for
the judicial proceedings, the court need make no other
findings in denying relief.” Compania
Interamericana Export-Import, S.A., 88 F.3d at 951-52.
facts here militate in favor of setting aside the entry of
default. First, there is no evidence that GDOC willfully
failed to respond timely to Plaintiff's Complaint. Bryan
Wilson, an attorney employed by GDOC's Office of Legal
Services, accepted service on behalf of Gregory Dozier,
GDOC's Commissioner, on March 3, 2018. (Doc. 5-2,
¶¶ 2, 4, 5). As is customary when an officer or
employee of GDOC is sued,  a request for representation was then
forwarded to the Attorney General's office on March 5,
2018. (Id. at ¶ 6). For reasons that remain
unclear, an attorney was not assigned to the case until after
the deadline to file an answer or other responsive pleading
had passed. (Id. at ¶ 7). GDOC did not learn of
the missed deadline until March 28, 2018, two days after the
expiration of the time to respond. (Id.). Prior to
that time, GDOC had a good faith belief that it was being
represented by the Attorney General's office.
worked promptly to remedy the error as soon as it was
discovered. GDOC filed its Motion for Relief from Default
(Doc. 5) on March 30, 2018, four days after its answer was
due and before Plaintiff moved the Clerk for an entry of
default. Then, a week later, GDOC filed its motion to dismiss
(Doc. 6). Despite Plaintiff's conclusory argument to the
contrary, it is clear that under the circumstances GDOC
properly followed its internal protocol for transmitting the
lawsuit to the Attorney General's office and that through
GDOC's diligence in following up with the Attorney
General the discovery of the missed deadline came to light.
there is no evidence that Plaintiff will be prejudiced by
setting aside the default. Plaintiff argues that GDOC has
shown reckless disregard for the judicial proceedings and has
acted in an overly litigious manner by filing not only the
motion to set aside the entry of default but also a motion to
dismiss and a motion to stay discovery. The Court disagrees
with Plaintiff's characterization of GDOC's response
to the problem at hand. It is apparent that GDOC responded
swiftly to remedy its error so as to avoid any prejudice to
Plaintiff. The Court likewise is not convinced by
Plaintiff's unsupported argument that the public interest
is somehow implicated in this case.
it is evident that GDOC has a meritorious defense to this
lawsuit. GDOC is an agency of the state, and it is well
established that a state and its agencies are not
“persons” who may be sued under § 1983.
Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Policy, 491 U.S.
58, 71 (1989); see also Stevens v. Gay, 864 F.2d
113, 114-15 (11th Cir. 1989) (explaining that the Eleventh
Amendment bars a plaintiff's § 1983 claims against
the State of Georgia and GDOC for both monetary damages and
injunctive relief). While Plaintiff certainly will be
afforded the opportunity to respond to GDOC's immunity
argument in relation to ...