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Scenters v. Hilton

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

November 1, 2017

CHRIS SCENTERS, Plaintiff,
v.
RICHARD HILTON, D/B/A RICHARD'S ROOFING REPAIR, Defendant.

          ORDER SETTING ASIDE ENTRY OF DEFAULT (Doc. 12) and DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT (Doc. 11)

          Timothy S. Black United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This case is before the Court on the Clerk's entry of default against Defendant (Doc. 12), Plaintiffs motion for default judgment (Doc. 11), and Defendant's request to set aside the default.[1]

         On February 21, 2017, Plaintiff filed the Complaint. (Doc. 3). The Complaint asserts that Plaintiff worked for Defendant as a roofer in the fall of 2016. (Id. at ¶ 4). The Complaint claims that Defendant did not pay Plaintiff for approximately 53.5 hours of work he performed for Defendant during October and November, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 11). The Complaint asserts claims for violation of federal and state minimum-wage laws and violation of Ohio Rev. Code § 4113.15.

         Defendant was served with the Complaint on February 24, 2017. (Doc. 8). On May 31, 2017, the Court put on an Order requiring Plaintiff to seek entry of default or show cause why the Complaint should not be dismissed for lack of prosecution. (Doc. 9). On May 31, 2017, Plaintiff filed an application for entry of default and a motion for default judgment. (Docs. 10, 11). On June 1, 2017, the Clerk issued an entry of default. (Doc. 12).

         On June 5, 2017, Defendant filed a Response to Default. (Doc. 13). The Response asserts that Defendant received some papers regarding this litigation and, acting pro se, "immediately" contacted Plaintiffs attorney. (Doc. 13 at 1). Defendant understood from that conversation that he would be receiving additional documents with a "court date" before he was required to act. (Id.) Instead, Defendant received a letter stating that Plaintiff had moved for default judgment. (Id. at 2). Defendant "immediately" called the Court and was informed he "had to come in and give an answer." (Id., )

         On June 5, 2017, Defendant filed an Answer. (Doc. 16). The Answer states that Plaintiff worked for Defendant as an independent contractor for about three weeks, during which time Plaintiff used drugs and left the job site for hours at a time. (Id.) Defendant dismissed Plaintiff from his duties after Plaintiff showed up "higher than a kite" to the job site. (Id.). At that time, Defendant owed Plaintiff less than $100. (Id.) Later, one of the roofs Plaintiff installed began to leak because of deficient workmanship; the roof cost Defendant $2, 500 to replace. (Id.) The Answer argues Defendant does not owe Plaintiff any money for the work he did perform. (Id.)

         II. STANDARD

         A court may set aside an entry of default for good cause. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(c). To determine whether good cause exists, courts weigh three equitable factors: (1) whether the defendant's culpable conduct led to the entry of default; (2) whether the defendant has a meritorious claim or defense; and (3) whether the plaintiff would be prejudiced if default was set aside. See Burrell v. Henderson, 434 F.3d 826, 831-32 (6thCir. 2006).

         "Rule 55(c) leaves to the discretion of the trial judge the decision whether to set aside an entry of default. However, a strong preference for trials on the merits in federal courts has led to the adoption of a somewhat modified standard of review where defaults are involved." Shepard Claims Service, Inc. v. William Darrah & Associates, 796 F.2d 190, 193 (6th Cir. 1986); See also Union Coin, 705 F.2d at 846 ("Trials on the merits are favored in federal courts and a 'glaring abuse' of discretion is not required for reversal of a court's refusal to relieve a party of the harsh sanction of default.").

         III. ANALYSIS

         The balance of the relevant factors clearly weighs in favor of setting aside the default. First, nothing before the Court suggests Defendant's culpable conduct lead to the entry of default. "Culpable conduct" includes an intent to "thwart judicial proceedings or a reckless disregard for the effect of [a defendant's] conduct on those proceedings." See Dassault Systemes, SA v. Childress, 663 F.3d 832, 844 (6th Cir. 2011).

         Here, Defendant (who is proceeding pro se) claims that he received some papers regarding this litigation, immediately contacted Plaintiffs attorney, and understood from that conversation that he would be receiving additional information, including a court date, before he was required to act. (Doc. 13 at 1-2). Upon learning Plaintiff filed a motion for default judgment, Defendant promptly filed an Answer and Response. (Docs. 13, 16). The Court cannot conclude from these facts that Defendant intended to thwart, or recklessly disregard, these proceedings.

         Second, Defendant has raised a meritorious defense. To establish a meritorious defense for purposes of setting aside a default, a defendant must simply advance a defense that is "good at law, " not necessarily one that is likely to succeed. See United Coin Meter Co. Inc. v. Seaboard Coastline R.R.,705 F.2d 839, 844-45 (6th Cir. 1989). The key to the meritorious defense inquiry is the determination of "whether there is some possibility that the outcome of the suit after a full trial will be contrary to ...


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