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Pearson v. Bison's of Alabama, Inc.

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

June 2, 2017


          Hearing SET for June 12, 2017



         On July 14, 2016, plaintiff Joanne Pearson sued defendant Bison's of Alabama, Inc. for discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12181 et seq. (Doc. 1). The Clerk of Court entered default on December 13, 2016 because Bison's failed to respond to Ms. Pearson's complaint. (Doc. 9). Ms. Pearson now asks the Court to enter default judgment against Bison's. (Doc. 12). For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants Ms. Pearson's motion for default judgment.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55 establishes a two-step procedure for obtaining a default judgment. First, when a defendant fails to defend a lawsuit, as in this case, the Clerk of Court may enter a clerk's default. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). Second, after entry of the clerk's default, if the defendant is not an infant or an incompetent person, the Court may enter a default judgment against the defendant because of the defendant's failure to appear or defend. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2). “A default judgment must not differ in kind from, or exceed in amount, what is demanded in the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(c).

         “A motion for default judgment is not granted as a matter of right.” Pitts ex rel. Pitts v. Seneca Sports, Inc., 321 F.Supp.2d 1353, 1356 (S.D. Ga. 2004) (internal footnote omitted). After a clerk enters a default pursuant to Rule 55(a), the Court must review the sufficiency of the complaint and its underlying substantive merits to determine whether a moving party is entitled to default judgment. Chudasama v. Mazda Motor Corp., 123 F.3d 1353, 1370 n. 41 (11th Cir. 1997). The Court must ensure that the well-pleaded allegations in the complaint state a substantive cause of action and that a sufficient basis exists in the pleadings for the relief sought. Cotton v. Mass. Mut. Life Ins. Co., 402 F.3d 1267, 1278 (11th Cir. 2005). In addition to the pleadings, the Court may consider evidence presented in the form of an affidavit or declaration. Frazier v. Absolute Collection Serv., Inc., 767 F.Supp.2d 1354, 1362 (N.D.Ga. 2011). A defaulting defendant “admits the plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations of fact” for purposes of liability. Buchanan v. Bowman, 820 F.2d 359, 361 (11th Cir. 1987) (quoting Nishimatsu Constr. Co., Ltd. v. Houston Nat'l Bank, 515 F.2d 1200, 1206 (5th Cir. 1975) (internal quotation marks omitted)).


         Ms. Pearson suffers from lupus, multiple sclerosis, and severe nerve damage. (Doc. 12-1, ¶ 2). She relies upon a wheelchair for mobility. (Doc. 12-1, ¶ 2). She drives a van equipped with a wheelchair ramp, and she requires a parking space of at least 16 feet in width. (Doc. 12-1, ¶ 3). Ms. Pearson alleges that shortly before she filed this lawsuit, she visited Bison's Bar & Grill at 8020 Madison Boulevard in Madison, Alabama and “encountered barriers to [her] full, safe and equal access” to the restaurant. (Doc. 12-1, ¶ 3). Specifically, Ms. Pearson alleges that Bison's lacks van-accessible parking spaces with clear signage, that the ramp leading to the main entrance of the restaurant is too steep for a wheelchair user and is situated in such a manner that it could be blocked by a parked vehicle, that the stalls in the restaurant's bathroom are too small for a wheelchair user, and that the soap dispensers and mirrors in the bathroom are positioned too high for a wheelchair user. (Doc. 1, ¶ 11; Doc. 12-1, ¶¶ 3-6).

         Ms. Pearson alleges that these conditions violate ADA and that she is entitled to injunctive relief. She asks the Court to enter an order directing Bison's to “alter [its] facilities to make such facilities readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.” (Doc. 1, ¶ 16); see also 42 U.S.C. § 12188(a)(2). Ms. Pearson also asserts that she is entitled to costs and attorney's fees. (Doc. 1, ¶ 15).

         Ms. Pearson served Bison's with a copy of the summons and complaint on December 12, 2016. (Doc. 7).[1] Bison's has not responded to the complaint or contested the Clerk's entry of default. Ms. Pearson filed a motion for default judgment on May 11, 2017. (Doc. 12). In support of her motion, Ms. Pearson submitted her own affidavit, as well as an affidavit and report by Gilbert Mobley, a retired architect and ADA consultant who evaluated the Bison's restaurant on Madison Boulevard for compliance with the ADA. (Docs. 12-1, 12-2, 12-4; see also Doc. 12, ¶ 3).


         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         The Court has federal subject matter jurisdiction in this case under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. In her complaint, Ms. Pearson alleges that Bison's violated the ADA by failing to make its restaurant accessible to disabled persons. (Doc. 1, pp. 3-5). Because a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's complaint, this Court has subject matter jurisdiction. See, e.g., Kemp v. Int'l Bus. Machines Corp., 109 F.3d 708, 712 (11th Cir. 1997).

         B. ...

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