United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Statesboro Division
ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND
BENJAMIN W. CHEESBRO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Defendants Valient Lyte,
Tiffany Henry, and Stanley Williams's
(“Defendants”) Motion for Relief from Default.
Doc. 51. For the reasons set forth below, I
RECOMMEND the Court GRANT
Defendants' Motion, DIRECT the Clerk of
Court to SET ASIDE each Defendant's
default, and allow these Defendants to proceed in defending
against this action.
filed his initial complaint in this case on April 21, 2016,
naming five Defendants: Nathan Deal; Homer Bryson; Valient
Lyte; Stanley Williams; and Tiffany Henry. Doc. 1. Following
the requisite frivolity review, Plaintiff's claims
against Deal and Bryson were dismissed in their entirety and
some, but not all, of the claims against the remaining three
Defendants were dismissed. Docs. 8, 14. Because the Court
granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma
pauperis, the Court directed the United States Marshals
to serve Defendants Lyte, Williams, and Henry. Doc. 9.
Defendants Lyte, Williams, and Henry executed waivers of
service, giving them until October 11, 2016, to file their
answers. Docs. 11, 12, 13.
Lyte, Williams, and Henry jointly moved to dismiss all of
Plaintiff's claims against them. Doc. 16. Ultimately, the
Court granted the motion to dismiss, dismissing all claims
against all remaining Defendants. Docs. 27, 29. Plaintiff
filed a notice of appeal. Doc. 31.
appeal, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals determined
Plaintiff, who had not previously amended his Complaint but
had requested leave to do so prior to Defendants' filing
of their motion to dismiss, had the right to amend as a
matter of course. Doc. 36 at 4. The Eleventh Circuit found
this Court erred by not granting Plaintiff leave to amend as
a matter of course, vacated this Court's dismissal of
Plaintiff's Complaint, and remanded the case back to this
accordance with the Eleventh Circuit's opinion, this
Court directed Plaintiff to file an amended Complaint within
14 days of its May 7, 2018 Order and allowed Defendants 21
days from the date of filing of Plaintiff's Amended
Complaint to respond. Doc. 40. Upon Plaintiff's request,
the Court extended the time for Plaintiff to file his Amended
Complaint by an additional 21 days, making Plaintiff's
Amended Complaint due by July 1, 2018. Docs. 41, 42. Despite
the extension, Plaintiff did not execute his Amended
Complaint until July 24, 2018, and it was not filed until
August 15, 2018. Doc. 48 at 25. The Amended Complaint again
names Defendants Lyte, Henry, and Williams, and, for the
first time, names Defendants Dozier, Allen, Pinero, and Lane.
Id. at 1. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint does not
name Deal or Bryson.
Court's earlier Order, Defendants Lyte, Henry, and
Williams were to file their answer or responsive motion to
Plaintiff's Amended Complaint within 21 days from the
date Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint, and, as a result,
had to file their response no later than September 5,
2018. Doc. 42. Defendants failed to timely
respond to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, and, instead
filed the instant Motion for Relief from Default on September
13, 2018, and a motion to dismiss on September 14, 2018.
Docs. 51, 52.
operation of law, Defendants have entered into default for
not timely answering or otherwise defending against
Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. Plaintiff, however, has
neither moved for an entry of default nor responded to the
present Motion. In addition, the Clerk of Court has yet to
enter Defendants' respective defaults.
assert their counsel “inadvertently missed the
notification that an amended complaint had been filed”
and did not file a timely response to Plaintiff's Amended
Complaint. Doc. 51-1 at 3. Defendants also assert they did
not willfully ignore Plaintiff's Amended Complaint or
intentionally delay responding to this Court's deadlines.
Id. at 5.
defendant who does not timely answer or otherwise defend
against a cause of action brought against him falls into
default. Fed. R. Civ P. 55(a). Defaults and default judgments
are disfavored, are a drastic remedy, and should be resorted
to only in extreme situations. Mitchell v. Brown &
Williamson, 294 F.3d 1309, 1316-17 (11th Cir. 2002).
Under Rule 55, “the court may set aside an entry of
default for good cause” prior to a default judgment
being entered.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(c); see Jones v.
Harrell, 858 F.2d 667, 669 (11th Cir. 1988) (explaining
that Rule 55(c) applies when a judgment has not been entered
and provides the court discretion to set aside a default,
while the more stringent provisions of Rule 60(b) apply only
when a judgment has been entered). While the “good
cause” standard varies depending on the facts of a
particular case, general guidelines are frequently applied.
Compania Interamericana Exp.-Imp., S.A. v. Compania
Dominicana, 88 F.3d 948, 951 (11th Cir. 1996) (citations
determining whether there is “good cause” to set
a default aside, courts have considered: “(a) whether
the default was culpable or willful; (b) whether setting it
aside would prejudice the adversary; (c) whether the
defaulting party presents a meritorious defense; (d) whether
there was significant financial loss to the defaulting party;
and (e) whether the defaulting party acted promptly to
correct the default.” SEC v. Johnson, 436
Fed.Appx. 939, 945 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing
Compania, 88 F.3d at 951-52). Importantly, courts in
the Eleventh Circuit “view defaults with
disfavor” due to the “strong policy of
determining cases on their merits.” In re Worldwide
Web Sys., Inc., 328 F.3d 1291, 1295 (11th Cir. 2003)
(citations omitted). However, where “a party willfully
defaults by displaying either an intentional or reckless
disregard” for judicial proceedings, the court may
properly deny a motion to set aside the default.
Compania, 88 F.3d at 951-52 (citation omitted).
case, Defendants have established good cause to set aside
their defaults. The Court finds that Defendants' failure
to answer or defend by the Court's imposed deadline was
neither culpable nor willful. Defendants' counsel
shoulders the blame for their defaults, as she avers she did
not enter an appearance in this Court at the same time she
entered an appearance with the Eleventh Circuit. Doc. 51-1 at
5. Counsel alleges she discovered her oversight only five
days after an answer or responsive pleading was due, and she
filed the instant Motion only three days later. Counsel's
slight error, which she acted promptly to remedy, should not
deprive Defendants of an opportunity to defend this case on
the merits. Fla. Physician's Ins. Co. v. Ehlers,
8 F.3d 780, 783 (11th Cir. 1993). Moreover, Defendants have
filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint
only nine days past the deadline. Finally, the Court finds
Plaintiff, who has not opposed this ...