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McCluey v. Skagit County Public Hospital District No. 1

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

May 25, 2018

RAGEN A. MCCLUEY, Plaintiff,


          The Honorable Richard A. Jones United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the court on Plaintiff's motion for default judgment. Dkt. # 10. The Court, having reviewed the motion and the record herein, GRANTS the motion and directs the clerk to enter default judgment as directed at the conclusion of this order.


         Defendant employed Plaintiff from October 13, 2015 to October 10, 2016 as a Remote Certified Professional Coder. Dkt. # 1 at 2. Plaintiff suffers from epilepsy and sometimes experiences seizures, but neither of these conditions prevented Plaintiff from working as a coder. Id. at 2-3. On September 14, 2016, Plaintiff suffered nine grand mal seizures and required hospitalization for forty-eight hours. Id. Because of Plaintiff's tenuous medical condition, Plaintiff's doctor restricted her from driving and leaving her home state of Montana. Id. On September 22, 2016, Defendant instructed Plaintiff to report to Defendant's office in Mount Vernon, Washington, on October 10, 2016 for a minimum of six months. Id. Plaintiff requested an accommodation from Defendant because of her medical condition, but Defendant did not grant any deviation from its instruction to report to the Mount Vernon office. Id. On September 30, 2016, Plaintiff requested information regarding the availability of time off under the Family Medical Leave Act; Defendant responded by informing Plaintiff that she was not eligible for family medical leave. Id. at 4. On October 10, 2016, when Plaintiff failed to report to Defendant's Mount Vernon office as instructed, Defendant terminated her employment. Id.

         This matter is the second of two suits filed by Plaintiff regarding the circumstances of her termination. Plaintiff filed her first complaint on August 16, 2017. McCluey v. Skagit Valley Pub. Hosp. Dist. No. 1, No. 17-1243 (W.D. Wash. filed Aug. 16, 2017) (McCluey I), Dkt. # 1. Defendant's attorney responded to that complaint by sending a letter to Plaintiff's attorneys on August 28, 2017, noting that Plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies prior to filing suit. Dkt. # 7-1 at 24-25. Plaintiff moved to voluntarily dismiss the first suit, and on October 2, 2017 the Court granted that dismissal without prejudice. McCluey I, Dkt. ## 6, 7. On November 29, 2017, Plaintiff commenced the current action. Dkt. # 1. Plaintiff served Defendant with a copy of the new complaint on December 21, 2017. Dkt. # 7-1 at 15. On February 1, 2018, Plaintiff petitioned the clerk for an entry of default, and on February 6, 2018, the clerk entered the default. Dkt. ## 7, 8. On February 8, 2018, Plaintiff moved for default judgment. Dkt. # 10. Defendant filed an initial notice of appearance on March, 26, 2018 but has not filed any other pleadings or motions in this case. Dkt. # 11.


         A. Procedural Requirements for Default Judgment

         Rule 55 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) governs the two-step process parties must follow to obtain a default judgment. Eitel v. McCool, 782 F.2d 1470, 1471 (9th Cir. 1986); see also W.D. Wash. LCR 55(b)(1). First, the party seeking relief must obtain an entry of default from the clerk. To obtain a default, the moving party must show that the defendant failed to plead or otherwise defend itself against the complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a); W.D. Wash. LCR 55(a). Second, if the clerk enters a default, the moving party must then seek an entry of default judgment from either the clerk or the court. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b). The clerk is only authorized to enter default judgment when the plaintiff's claim is for a “sum certain” against a competent defendant that has not appeared in the case. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(1); W.D. Wash. LCR 55(b)(3). In all other cases, the court is the only entity authorized to enter a default judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2); W.D. Wash. LCR 55(b)(4).

         Procedurally, the party seeking default judgment does not need to serve or give notice to the non-moving party if the non-moving party did not enter an appearance in the case. W.D. Wash. LCR 55(b)(4); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b)(2). The defaulting party's appearance in the case need not be a formal presentation to the court, but the defaulting party must at least demonstrate some “clear purpose to defend the suit.” Wilson v. Moore & Assocs., Inc., 564 F.2d 366, 369 (9th Cir. 1977) (holding that a defendant's letter partially responding to a plaintiff's complaint did not constitute an appearance). Conversely, if the non-moving party entered an appearance in the case, the moving party must serve and notify the non-moving party of the motion. Id. Merely making an appearance, though, does not immunize a defending party from an entry of default judgment if that party fails to plead or otherwise defend itself. See, e.g., Direct Mail Specialists, Inc. v. Eclat Computerized Tech., 840 F.2d 685, 690 (9th Cir. 1988) (if a defendant fails to answer a complaint within the time limits of FRCP 12, the court may enter default judgment). The appearance merely entitles the non-moving party to at least seven-days notice of the moving party's motion for default judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b)(2); W.D. Wash. LCR 55(b)(4) (extending the seven-day notice provision of the FRCP to at least twenty-one days).

         B. Substantive Requirements for Default Judgment

         A court's decision to enter a default judgment is always discretionary. Aldabe v. Aldabe, 616 F.2d 1089, 1092 (9th Cir. 1980). Default judgment is “ordinarily disfavored, ” because courts prefer to decide “cases on their merits whenever reasonably possible.” Eitel, 782 F.2d at 1472. When considering whether to exercise discretion in entering default judgments, courts consider a variety of factors, including:

(1) the possibility of prejudice to the plaintiff, (2) the merits of a plaintiff's substantive claim, (3) the sufficiency of the complaint, (4) the sum of money at stake in the action; (5) the possibility of a dispute concerning material facts; (6) whether the default was due to excusable neglect, and (7) the strong policy underlying the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Id. at 1471-72. Courts reviewing motions for default judgment must accept the allegations in the complaint as true, except facts related to the amount of damages. Geddes v. United Fin. Grp.,559 F.2d 557, 560 (9th Cir. 1977). Courts must conduct a hearing to analyze damages if the moving party does not produce sufficient evidence allowing the court to accurately calculate damages. See, e.g., Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2)(B); W.D. ...

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