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Todd v. Patel

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

April 7, 2015

SUBRENA TODD, Plaintiff,
v.
RAJENDRA KUMAR D. PATEL, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This case arises under Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA" or the "Act"). (Doc. 1 at 1 ¶ 1). As a result of the pro tanto dismissal of Defendant Integrity, LLC ("Integrity") on January 15, 2015 (Doc. 31), [1] only one defendant remains in the case-Rajendra Kumar D. Patel ("Mr. Patel").

Pending before the court is Plaintiff Subrena Todd's ("Ms. Todd") Verified Motion for Default Judgment (Doc. 32) (the "Motion") against Mr. Patel filed on February 3, 2015.[2] The Motion seeks injunctive relief only, requests that the court retain jurisdiction to award attorney's fees and costs (Doc. 32 at 5), and attaches a proposed default judgment. (Doc. 32-1). For the reasons discussed below, the Motion is due to be denied without prejudice.

II. STANDARD ON DEFAULT JUDGMENT

"When a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend as provided by these rules and that fact is made to appear by affidavit or otherwise, the clerk shall enter the party's default." Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). However, entry of default under Rule 55(a) does not entitle a party to his requested relief. Either the clerk or the court must enter a default judgment under Rule 55(b). Here, Ms. Todd asks the court, and not the clerk, to act pursuant to Rule 55(b)(2).

Generally, the entry of a default judgment is committed to the discretion of the district judge. Mason v. Lister, 562 F.2d 343, 345 (5th Cir. 1977).[3] The factual allegations of a well-pleaded complaint are taken as true; hence, the court must decide if these accepted facts state a cause of action for which relief can be granted. Chudasama v. Mazda Motor Corp., 123 F.3d 1353, 1370 n.41 (11th Cir. 1987); Nishimatsu Const. Co., Ltd. v. Houston Nat. Bank, 515 F.2d 1200, 1206 (5th Cir. 1975) ("There must be a sufficient basis in the pleadings for the judgment entered.") (footnote omitted); Descent v. Kolitsidas, 396 F.Supp.2d 1315, 1316 (M.D. Fla. 2005) (same). When the amount of damages due is uncertain, an evidentiary hearing is often required to determine the sum the defaulting defendant must pay . S.E.C. v. Smyth, 420 F.3d 1225, 1231-32 (11th Cir. 2005). On the other hand, if a specific or, such as here, no sum is sought, a hearing may not be necessary.

As explained by Judge William H. Steele of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama regarding default judgments:

The law is clear, however, that Lacey's failure to appear and the Clerk's subsequent entry of default against her do not automatically entitle plaintiffs to a default judgment. Indeed, a default is not "an absolute confession by the defendant of his liability and of the plaintiff's right to recover, " but is instead merely "an admission of the facts cited in the Complaint, which by themselves may or may not be sufficient to establish a defendant's liability." Pitts ex rel. Pitts v. Seneca Sports, Inc., 321 F.Supp.2d 1353, 1357 (S.D. Ga. 2004); see also Descent v. Kolitsidas, 396 F.Supp.2d 1315, 1316 (M.D. Fla. 2005) ("the defendants' default notwithstanding, the plaintiff is entitled to a default judgment only if the complaint states a claim for relief"); GMAC Commercial Mortg. Corp. v. Maitland Hotel Associates, Ltd., 218 F.Supp.2d 1355, 1359 (M.D. Fla. 2002) (default judgment is appropriate only if court finds sufficient basis in pleadings for judgment to be entered, and that complaint states a claim). Stated differently, "a default judgment cannot stand on a complaint that fails to state a claim." Chudasama v. Mazda Motor Corp., 123 F.3d 1353, 1370 n.41 (11th Cir. 1997).

Virgin Records America, Inc. v. Lacey, 510 F.Supp.2d 588, 591-92 (S.D. Ala. 2007) (emphasis added).

III. PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND STATEMENT OF FACTS

On July 18, 2014, Ms. Todd initiated this ADA case. (Doc. 1). On October 27, 2014, the clerk entered a default against Mr. Patel (Doc. 26) pursuant to Rule 55(a) of the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure due to his failure to answer or otherwise respond to Ms. Todd's complaint after having been duly served with it on September 11, 2014. (Doc. 19).

The complaint alleges that Ms. Todd is bound to a wheelchair and suffers from what constitutes a "qualified disability" under the ADA as she is limited in the major life activity of walking and "in the exercise of normal bodily functions." (Doc. 1 at 2 ¶ 3). Ms. Todd states that she, "on numerous occasions within the applicable statutes of limitations period" (Doc. 1 at 4 ¶ 10) has "personally visited SUBWAY in Childersburg, Alabama, but was denied full and equal access to, and full and equal enjoyment of, the facilities within and about SUBWAY, which is the subject of this lawsuit." (Doc. 1 at 2 ¶ 3).

Ms. Todd explains that she lives in Talladega County, where the SUBWAY is located, and that she "frequently travels to th[at] [particular] area" because the SUBWAY's location is "along the most direct route to [her] [d]octor's medical treatment offices." (Doc. 1 at 5 ¶ 11). She also "continues to desire to and has definite plans" to return to the SUBWAY in the future, but is hampered by the discriminatory "barriers to access that remain" there. ( Id. at 5 ¶ 12).

Ms. Todd further asserts that Integrity is the lessee and operator of the SUBWAY (Doc. 1 at 2 ¶ 4), and that Mr. Patel is "the owner and lessor of the real property where the [SUBWAY] is located... [and] wh[o] also maintains and controls the subject property." ( Id. at 3 ¶ 4).

The pleading additionally states that "SUBWAY is a place of public accommodation in that [Integrity] operates a sandwich shop which provides food and beverages to the public." ( Id. at 4 ¶ 7). Ms. Todd similarly contends that the building housing the SUBWAY "is a public accommodation covered by the ADA and which must be in compliance therewith." ( Id. at 4 ¶ 8).

The complaint contains only one count asserted against the defendants collectively and alleges the following specific Title III violations of the ADA:

a. Failure to provide adequately compliant parking spaces within the parking lot which meet the requirements of accessible parking under the ADA, including but not limited to failing to:
i. provide properly designated accessible parking spaces with the requisite access aisles marked as such so as to discourage parking in them[;]
ii. provide upright accessible parking space signage at least 60 inches above the ground identifying accessible spaces are provided by displaying the International Symbol of Accessibility[; and]
iii. provide a van accessible parking space and access aisle, and proper signage designating van ...

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