United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana
RULING AND ORDER
W. deGRAVELLES, JUDGE.
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.
Relevant Factual and Procedural Background
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.)
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.)
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.)
The Relevant Standard
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).
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.
J&J Sports Prods., Inc. v. Boil & Roux
Kitchen, LLC, 2018 WL 1089267, at *1 (M.D. La.
Feb. 27, 2018).
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.