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Johnson v. Wang

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

April 4, 2017

GEORGE JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
DONALD P. WANG, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER SETTING ASIDE THE DEFAULT AND DENYING MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT

          JAMES L. ROBART United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the court is Plaintiff George Johnson's motion for default judgment against in personam Defendant Donald P. Wang. (Mot. (Dkt. # 17).) Mr. Wang, who is proceeding pro se, opposes Mr. Johnson's motion for default judgment and requests that the court set aside the default. (Resp. (Dkt. # 18).) The court has considered the motion, Mr. Wang's response, Mr. Johnson's reply in support of his motion (Reply (Dkt. # 19)), the relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law. Being fully advised, [1] the court SETS ASIDE the entry of default and DENIES Mr. Johnson's motion for the reasons set forth below.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On November 10, 2016, Mr. Johnson filed this lawsuit. (Compl. (Dkt. # 1).) Mr. Johnson alleges that Mr. Wang failed to pay him $7, 380.00 in wages for 492 hours of work and failed to fulfill his promise to let Mr. Johnson master the F/V Thor-a fishing vessel-during the tuna fishing season. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 8.) Mr. Johnson seeks the arrest, condemnation, and sale of the F/V Thor; compensatory, double, and punitive damages for the alleged failure to pay wages; attorney's fees and costs; and prejudgment interest. (See Id. ¶¶ 7-8.)

         On January 24, 2017, Mr. Johnson moved for entry of default against Mr. Wang (MFD (Dkt. # 9) at 1) and filed a declaration attesting that Mr. Wang was served on December 31, 2016 (see Merriam Decl. (Dkt. # 10) ¶ 2, Ex. 1). Later that same day, attorney Thomas Waller appeared on Mr. Wang's behalf. (Not. (Dkt. # 11).) On February 2, 2017, Mr. Waller moved to withdraw as Mr. Wang's attorney (MTW (Dkt. # 12) at 1), and one week later, Mr. Wang filed an answer pro se (Answer (Dkt. # 13)). The court directed the Clerk to enter default because Mr. Wang failed to defend against the action by the time Mr. Johnson moved for entry of default. (2/10/17 Order at 4-5 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a)).) The Clerk entered default on February 24, 2017. (Default Order (Dkt. # 16).)

         III. ANALYSIS

         Mr. Johnson now moves for default judgment to recover the wages he contends Mr. Wang failed to pay him and for his attorney's fees and costs. (See Mot. at 1-2.) In response, Mr. Wang moves to set aside the default and opposes Mr. Johnson's motion for default judgment.[2] (See Resp. at 1-3.) The court first addresses Mr. Wang's request to set aside the default, followed by Mr. Johnson's motion for default judgment.

         A. Motion to Set Aside Entry of the Default

         Rule 55(c) provides that “[t]he court may set aside an entry of default for good cause.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(c). Courts in the Ninth Circuit evaluate whether a party has shown good cause to set aside an entry of default by analyzing three factors: (1) “whether the plaintiff will be prejudiced, ” (2) “whether the defendant has a meritorious defense, ” and (3) “whether culpable conduct of the defendant led to the default.” Brandt v. Am. Bankers Ins. Co. of Fla., 653 F.3d 1108, 1111 (9th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). The party seeking to set aside the default bears the burden of demonstrating that the three factors favor setting aside default. See TCI Grp. Life Ins. Plan v. Knoebber, 244 F.3d 691, 696 (9th Cir. 2001), overruled on other grounds by Egelhoff v. Egelhoff ex rel. Breiner, 532 U.S. 141 (2001). However, the Ninth Circuit's “rules for determining when a default should be set aside are solicitous towards movants, ” particularly those movants who are proceeding pro se. United States v. Signed Pers. Check No. 730 of Yubran S. Mesle, 615 F.3d 1085, 1089 (9th Cir. 2010); see also Id. at 1093 (noting special solicitude for pro se plaintiffs who seek to set aside a default). For this reason, a district court should “resolve[] all doubt in favor of setting aside the entry of default and deciding the case on its merits.” O'Connor, 27 F.3d at 364.

         1. Prejudice

         Setting aside the entry of default prejudices a plaintiff when it hinders a plaintiff's ability to pursue his or her claim. See TCI Grp. Life Ins., 244 F.3d at 701. The harm must be greater than “simply delaying resolution of the case, ” id., imposing “the ordinary cost of litigating, ” id., or requiring the plaintiff “to establish the merits of [his] claim, ” Aristocrat Techs., Inc. v. High Impact Design & Entm't, 642 F.Supp.2d 1228, 1233 (D. Nev. 2009). Indeed, setting aside the default must cause a plaintiff “tangible harm such as loss of evidence, increased difficulties of discovery, or greater opportunity for fraud or collusion.” TCI Grp. Life Ins., 244 F.3d at 701 (quoting Thompson v. Am. Home Assur. Co., 95 F.3d 429, 433-34 (6th Cir. 1996)).

         The court concludes that setting aside the entry of default will not prejudice Mr. Johnson because any delay will not hinder Mr. Johnson's ability to pursue his claims or impose any costs beyond those inherent in litigating his case. Id. Further, the action is still in the early stages of litigation, and requiring Mr. Johnson to establish the merits of his claims does not constitute prejudice. See Aristocrat Techs., 642 F.Supp.2d at 1233. Finally, Mr. Johnson's filings do not indicate any prejudice for the purposes of setting aside the entry of default. (See Mot.; Reply.) Accordingly, this factor favors setting aside the default.

         2. Merito ...


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