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First Financial Bank v. Stancell

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

April 8, 2015

FIRST FINANCIAL BANK, Plaintiff,
v.
JEREMY LEE STANCELL, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This case is before the court on a motion for default judgment and attorney's fees ("the Motion") against defendant Jeremy Lee Stancell ("Mr. Stancell") by the plaintiff, First Financial Bank ("First Financial"). (Doc. 27). An entry of default was made against Mr. Stancell on December 17, 2014, following his failure to answer or otherwise respond to the complaint. (Doc. 25). Mr. Stancell has not responded to a show cause order issued to him concerning the motion for judgment by default. (Doc. 29).

First Financial originally brought the action against both Mr. Stancell and Dalana S. Stancell ("Ms. Stancell") in order to enforce three promissory notes executed by the defendants and delivered to First Financial. (Doc. 1 at 2). First Financial seeks judgment for the amount remaining due on the notes after the mortgages taken out by Mr. Stancell and Ms. Stancell were foreclosed. ( Id. at 3). Following a joint motion by First Financial and Ms. Stancell to sever and dismiss the claim against Ms. Stancell on account of her bankruptcy petition (Doc. 23), Ms. Stancell was dismissed from this case on April 8, 2015. (Doc.35). This left Mr. Stancell as the only remaining defendant.

The deadline has passed for Mr. Stancell to respond to the show cause order ( see Doc. 29), and so the Motion is now under submission. For the reasons discussed below, the Motion is due to be granted.

II. STANDARDS

A. Summary Judgment

In 2007, Judge Steele in the Southern District of Alabama summarized the appropriate standard for motions for default judgment:

In this Circuit, "there is a strong policy of determining cases on their merits and we therefore view defaults with disfavor." In re Worldwide Web Systems, Inc., 328 F.3d 1291, 1295 (11th Cir. 2003). Nonetheless, it is well established that a "district court has the authority to enter default judgment for failure... to comply with its orders or rules of procedure." Wahl v. McIver, 773 F.2d 1169, 1174 (11th Cir. 1985).
Where, as here, a defendant has failed to appear or otherwise acknowledge the pendency of a lawsuit against her for nearly two months after being served, entry of default judgment may be appropriate. Indeed, Rule 55 itself provides for entry of default and default judgment where a defendant "has failed to plead or otherwise defend as provided by these rules." Rule 55(a), Fed.R.Civ.P. In a variety of contexts, courts have entered default judgments against defendants who have failed to defend the claims against them following proper service of process. In short, then, "[w)hile modern courts do not favor default judgments, they are certainly appropriate when the adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party. Flynn v. Angelucci Bros. & Sons, Inc., 448 F.Supp.2d 193, 195 (D.D.C.2006) (citation omitted). The law is clear, however, that [the defendant's) failure to appear and the Clerk's subsequent entry of default against her do not automatically entitle [the plaintiff) 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"). 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).

Atl. Recording Corp. v. Carter, 508 F.Supp.2d 1019, 1021-23 (S.D. Ala. 2007) (internal citations omitted).

"The allegations must be well-pleaded in order to provide a sufficient basis for the judgment entered." De Lotta v. Dezenzo's Italian Rest., Inc., No. 6:08CV2033ORL22KRS, 2009 WL 4349806 at *2 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 24, 2009) (citing Eagle Hosp. Physicians, LLC v. SRG Consulting, Inc., 561 F.3d 1298, 1307 (11th Cir.2009)). In making the determination as to whether the complaint is well pleaded, the court notes that the "plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (quotations omitted). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 1965. Mere conclusory statements in support of a threadbare recital of the elements of a cause of action will not suffice. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).

B. Breach Of Contract

Under Alabama law, a plaintiff claiming breach of contract must prove ...


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