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Payton v. Town of Maringouin

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

June 4, 2019




         This matter comes before the Court on the Motion to Set Aside Entry of Default (Doc. 52) filed by Defendant RJ's Transportation (“RJ's” or “Defendant”). Plaintiff Cynthia Payton (“Plaintiff”) opposes the motion. (Doc. 54.) RJ's has filed a reply. (Doc. 57.) Oral argument is not necessary. The Court has carefully considered the law, facts in the record, and arguments and submissions of the parties and is prepared to rule. For the following reasons, the Defendant's motion is granted.

         I. Relevant Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff Cynthia Payton is a resident of Maringouin, Louisiana. Plaintiff alleges that beginning in 2015, trucks and trailers began parking in close proximity to her house. (Am. Compl., Doc. 16 at 4.) The trucks were operated on behalf of Defendant RJ's Transportation by Defendants James, Bourgeois, and Ventress (“the employees”). (Id.) Believing the trucks were hauling dangerous substances, Plaintiff sent a series of unanswered complaints to public officials in the town of Maringouin. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that, after submitting these complaints, RJ's employees began stalking and harassing her. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff asserts that she reported the incidents of harassment to the Iberville Sheriff's Office, but she was again ignored. (Id.) On September 27, 2017, Plaintiff purportedly wrote a letter to RJ's concerning the conduct of RJ's employees and their operations of RJ's trucks. (Id. at 8.) Plaintiff alleges that, in retaliation to the letter sent to their employer, the three employees executed affidavits for the local authorities attesting that Plaintiff had criminally defamed them. (Id. at 10). Each affidavit supposedly contained an allegation that “Payton ‘Did commit the crime of defamation by sending a letter to [said employee's] boss with false statements.'” (Id. at 10-11). Thereafter, the Justice of the Peace for Iberville Parish issued an arrest warrant for Plaintiff. (Id. at 17.)

         Plaintiff asserts the following causes of action against the employees: malicious prosecution, abuse of process, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and being conspiratorially liable “for all torts and misconduct set forth in [the Amended Complaint] under Louisiana Civil Code art. 2324 and 42 U.S.C. 1983.” (Am. Compl., Doc. 16 at 15, 17-19). In short, Plaintiff contends that the drivers were involved in a conspiracy with the local authorities to have her complaints ignored and to have her arrested. Plaintiff also asserts that RJ's is vicariously liable for all conduct of or attributable to the employees. (Id. at 20.) Further, Plaintiff alleges that all the named defendants are liable jointly, severally, and in solido for their conduct. (Id. at 3.)

         The instant lawsuit was filed on May 18, 2016. (Doc. 1.) Defendants James and Ventress were served on September 4, 2018. (Docs. 46 and 47.) Their responsive pleadings were due September 25, but they have not filed responsive pleadings to date. On November 19, 2018, a Clerk's Entry of Default was made against them. (Docs. 50 and 51.) However, both Clerk's Entry of Default were returned as undeliverable. (Docs. 55 and 56.) Defendant RJ's has now motioned this court to set aside the Entry of Default so that the case can proceed against all defendants. (Doc. 52.)

         II. The Relevant Standard

         The Fifth Circuit disfavors default judgments. Lindsey v. Prive Corp., 161 F.3d 886, 893 (5th Cir. 1998). A default judgment is considered to be a drastic remedy that should only be available “when the adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party.” Bank of Ocala v. Pelican Homestead & Sav. Ass'n, 874 F.2d 274, 276 (5th Cir. 1989) (quoting H.F. Livermore Corp. v. Aktiengesellschaft Gebruder Loepfe, 432 F.2d 689, 691 (D.C. Cir. 1970)). Therefore, a defendant in technical default is not enough to get a default judgment. Ganther v. Ingle, 75 F.3d 207, 212 (5th Cir. 1996). The entry of default judgment is generally a matter of discretion for the district judge. Mason v. Lister, 562 F.2d 343, 345 (5th Cir. 1977).

         The Fifth Circuit has developed a two-part test to determine whether a default judgment should be entered. Lindsey v. Prive Corp., 161 F.3d 886, 893 (5th Cir. 1998). Another section of this Court has recently discussed this two-part test as follows:

In determining whether a default judgment should be entered, the Fifth Circuit has developed a two-part test. Taylor v. City of Baton Rouge, 39 F.Supp.3d 807, 813 (M.D. La. 2014). First, the Court must determine whether the entry of default judgment is appropriate under the circumstances. Lindsey v. Prive Corp., 161 F.3d 886, 893 (5th Cir. 1998). Factors relevant to this determination include: (1) whether there are material issues of fact at issue; (2) whether there has been substantial prejudice; (3) whether the grounds for default have been clearly established; (4) whether the default was caused by excusable neglect or good faith mistake; (5) the harshness of default judgment; and (6) whether the court would think itself obliged to set aside the default on a motion by Defendant. Id. Second, the Court must assess the merits of Plaintiff's claims and find a viable claim for relief. Nishimatsu Constr. Co. v. Hous. Nat'l Bank, 515 F.2d 1200, 1206 (5th Cir. 1975).

J&J Sports Prods., Inc. v. Boil & Roux Kitchen, LLC, 2018 WL 1089267, at *1 (M.D. La. Feb. 27, 2018).

         Apart from the general two-part test, there are additional implications as to the appropriateness of a default judgment when there are multiple defendants, especially when a plaintiff alleges joint and several liability. See Road Sprinkler Fitters Local Union No. 669, U.A., AFL-CIO v. CCR Fire Protection, LLC, 2018 WL 3076743, at *7 (M.D. La. June 21, 2018). This Court has previously stated, “[t]he issue may not be amenable to a categorical decision: the likelihood of inconsistent judgments where joint and several liability is alleged will vary with specific facts and issues presented in a particular case.” Id., at *8. Further, “there is an emphatically clear answer as to the appropriate course of action when it is at all uncertain whether a default judgment should be entered.” Id. Therefore, the appropriateness of a default judgment should be decided on a case-by-case basis, and if there is not a clear answer, the Court should err on the side of caution and refuse to issue a default judgment. Id.

         III. Discussion

         A. ...

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