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Bailey v. Vannoy

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

March 29, 2018

GARY BAILEY
v.
DARRYL VANNOY, ET AL.

          RULING AND ORDER

          BRIAN A. JACKSON, CHIEF JUDGE

         Before the Court is Plaintiff Gary Bailey's Joint Motion for Preliminary Injunction and T.R.O. (Doc. 3), Defendants Warden Darryl Vannoy, Asst. Warden Tracy Falgout, and Aimee Zaunbrecher's Motion to Set Aside Clerk's Entries of Default (Doc. 18), Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment for Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies (Doc. 19), and Plaintiffs Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 20). [1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Pro se Plaintiff, an inmate confined at the Louisiana State Penitentiary ("LSP"), Angola, Louisiana, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Medical Director Raman Singh, Dr. Randy Lavespere, Secretary James LeBlanc, Warden Darrell Vannoy and Ass't Warden Stephanie Lamartiniere, complaining that Defendants have violated his constitutional rights through deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, specifically by requiring that he undergo an annual tuberculosis skin test notwithstanding that he allegedly suffers an allergic reaction to the test and notwithstanding that a non-invasive alternative is available, i.e., a chest x-ray, that would allegedly permit him to avoid the allergic reaction and that would also provide for the safety of the prison.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Defendants' Motion to Set Aside Clerk's Entries of Default

         Addressing first Defendants' Motion to Set Aside Clerk's Entries of Default (Doc. 18), the record reflects that Defendants were served with copies of the summons and Complaint on November 6, 2017. See Doc. 15. This service triggered a duty on the part of Defendants to respond to the Complaint, and it is recognized that a failure to timely respond may result in the entry of a default or a default judgment in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 55. Rogers v. Hartford Life & Accident Ins. Co., 167 F.3d 933, 937-39 (5th Cir. 1999). Thereafter, upon the failure of Defendants to appear or respond, the Clerk of Court, at Plaintiffs request, entered a preliminary default against Defendants on February 5, 2018. See Docs. 16 and 17. Notwithstanding, shortly thereafter, on February 19, 2018, Defendants filed the instant Motion to Set Aside the default and also filed a Motion for Summary Judgment addressed to the issue of administrative exhaustion. See Docs. 18 and 19.

         In the Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendants assert the procedural defense that Plaintiffs action is subject to dismissal because of his failure to exhaust administrative remedies as mandated by 42 U.S.C. § l997e. In addition, in support of Defendants request to set aside the entry of the default under Fed.R.Civ.P. 55, counsel for Defendants asserts that Defendants' failure to timely respond to Plaintiffs Complaint was not willful and that it resulted simply from a delay that occurred between service of process and the assignment of counsel, with counsel being assigned to represent Defendants in this matter only after a responsive pleading was already due. Moreover, counsel represents that Defendants have meritorious defenses in response to Plaintiffs claims and that Plaintiff will not be prejudiced by the grant of the instant motion to set aside the entry of the default.

         Rule 55(a) provides that, upon the failure of a defendant, after service of process, to file a pleading or otherwise defend, the Clerk of Court shall enter a default against that defendant. Thereafter, pursuant to Rule 55(b), a plaintiff must apply to the Court for entry of a judgment of default. A judgment of default, however, is not a matter of right, and the awarding thereof is within the sound discretion of the district court. Rogers v. Hartford Life and Ace. Ins. Co., 167 F.3d 933 (5th Cir. 1999). In addition, the decision to set aside a default lies within the sound discretion of the district court. Id. See also United States v. One Parcel of Real Property, 763 F.2d 181 (5th Cir. 1985). Default judgments are not favored in the law, and a trial on the merits is generally seen as being more in the interest of justice and fair play. Id. See also Sun Bank of Ocala v. Pelican Homestead & Sav. Ass'n, 874 F.2d 274, 276 (5th Cir. 1989); Lacy v. Sitel Corp., 227 F.3d 290, 292 (5th Cir. 2000); 10A Wright, Miller and Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil 3d § 2690 (1998). Further, a default judgment is considered a drastic remedy that should only be available "when the adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party." Sun Bank of Ocala v. Pelican Homestead & Sav. Ass'n, 874 F.2d at 276. Therefore, a party is not entitled to a default judgment, even where a defendant is technically in default. Ganther v. Ingle, 75 F.3d 207, 212 (5th Cir. 1996).

         In determining whether to set aside an entered default, the district court considers (1) whether the default was willful, (2) whether setting it aside would prejudice the adversary, and (3) whether a meritorious defense is presented. United States v. One Parcel of Real Property, 763 F.2d at 183. The standard for setting aside a default is less rigorous even than that for setting aside a judgment for excusable neglect. Id. at 183.

         Applying this standard to the instant case, the Court concludes, in the exercise of its discretion, that the entry of default should be vacated. Specifically, Defendants' failure to appear in this case does not appear to have been willful, and while the justification for the ensuing delay is not addressed with any great specificity in Defendants' Motion, [2] the minimal delay attendant to Defendants' failure to timely appear will not prejudice Plaintiff in presenting his case. In addition, Defendants have raised a procedural defense in their Motion for Summary Judgment that, as discussed below, appears to be meritorious. Further, the Court notes that the meritorious procedural defense is essentially apparent from the face of Plaintiffs Complaint, including Plaintiffs explicit acknowledgement therein that he failed to proceed to the second step of the administrative process and so, from a legal standpoint, failed to exhaust administrative remedies as mandated by federal law. Finally, Defendants assert that they have additional substantive defenses available to them, including the defense of qualified immunity, that may prove to be meritorious in this case, particularly in light of the high bar that an inmate plaintiff must surpass to succeed in establishing a claim of deliberate medical indifference. See Domino v. Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice, 239 F.3d 752, 756 (5th Cir. 2001). Accordingly, in the exercise of its discretion, the Court finds that the scales are tipped in favor of vacating the default and allowing this case to proceed.

         B. Summary Judgment

         Turning to the parties' Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment (Docs. 19 and 20), these motions principally address the issue of administrative exhaustion, which is a prerequisite for the assertion of an inmate's claim arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants contend, relying upon the pleadings, a Statement of Undisputed Facts, and the affidavit of LSP Legal Programs Director Nyesha Kelly, that dismissal is appropriate in the first instance based upon the procedural argument that Plaintiff has failed to exhaust administrative remedies as mandated by 42 U.S.C. § l997e.

         Under well-established legal principles, summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine disputed issue as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,477 U.S. 242 (1986). A party moving for summary judgment must inform the Court of the basis for the motion and identify those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, that show that there is no such genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party carries its burden of proof under Rule 56, the opposing party must direct the Court's attention to specific evidence in the record which demonstrates that the non-moving party can satisfy a reasonable jury that it is entitled to a verdict in its favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. This burden is not satisfied by some metaphysical doubt as to alleged material facts, by unsworn and unsubstantiated assertions, by conclusory allegations, or by a mere scintilla of evidence. Little v. Liquid Air Corp.,37 F.3d 1069, ...


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