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Pettus v. Fine Line Racing, Inc.

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

August 23, 2017

CERES PETTUS, Plaintiff
v.
FINE LINE RACING, INC. and ERIC GRIFFIN, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. DAVID PROCTOR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is before the court on the Motion for Entry of Default Final Judgment (Doc. # 32) and on the Motion for Entitlement to and Award of Attorney's Fees and Costs (Doc. # 33) both filed by Plaintiff Ceres Pettus (“Plaintiff”). After the Clerk's Entries of Default as to Defendants Eric Griffin (“Griffin”) and Fine Line Racing, Inc. (“FLR”) (collectively “Defendants”) (Docs. # 24, 30), Plaintiff seeks a default judgment for damages in the amount of $40, 446.00. (Doc. # 32). Plaintiff also requests attorney's fees and costs under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) in the amounts of $5, 495.00 and $619.40. (Doc. #33). For the reasons outlined below, the court finds that both motions (Docs. # 32, 33) are due to be granted.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On August 3, 2016, Plaintiff filed this action against Defendants, seeking to recover unpaid overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), [1] 29 U.S.C. §201 et seq. (Doc. # 1). Service by certified mail was requested pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(e)(1) and Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 4(i)(2). (Doc. # 3). The Clerk sent copies of the summons and complaint to Defendants on August 15, 2016. (Doc. # 4). The summons was returned executed as to Defendant Griffin on August 19, 2016, but Griffin failed to answer or otherwise respond to the complaint. Plaintiff filed a Motion for Entry of Default as to Defendant Griffin (Doc. # 6) on September 26, 2017. That motion (Doc. # 6) and a later amendment (Doc. # 9) were denied for failure to follow the requirements of 50 U.S.C. § 3931. (Doc. # 11).

         As for Defendant FLR, the summons was returned as “unclaimed” on September 27, 2016, despite Plaintiff's attempts to serve FLR using both a process server and certified mail. (Docs. # 7, 10). The court allowed Plaintiff until December 5, 2016 to effectuate service on FLR. (Doc. # 11). When FLR had still not been served as of January 13, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Extension of Time, arguing that FLR was attempting to avoid service. (Doc. #16). However, three days after the motion was filed, the summons was returned executed as to FLR and the motion was deemed moot. (Docs. # 17, 18). Despite being properly served, FLR has failed to answer or otherwise respond to the complaint.

         On April 4, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Entry of Default against FLR (Doc. # 22) and a new Motion for Entry of Default against Griffin (Doc. # 23). The Clerk of Court entered Defendant Griffin's default on April 7, 2017. (Doc. # 24). On April 10, 2017, the Motion for Entry of Default against Defendant FLR was denied without prejudice for failure to reissue the August 15, 2016 summons (Doc. # 4) after it was returned unexecuted on September 27, 2016 (Doc. # 7). (Doc. # 25). Plaintiff was ordered to serve Defendant FLR with a new alias summons before May 8, 2017 or face dismissal of the defendant. (See id.). Defendant FLR issued an alias summons on May 4, 2017. (Doc. # 26). Plaintiff served Defendant FLR on May 19, 2017, and Defendant's answer was due on June 9, 2017. (Doc. # 28).

         By June 23, 2017, Defendant FLR still had not filed an answer or response, and Plaintiff filed an amended Motion for Entry of Default against Defendant FLR. (Doc. # 29). On June 27, 2017, the Clerk entered default as to Defendant FLR. (Doc. # 30). On June 30, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Entry of Default Final Judgment as to Defendants (Doc. # 32) and a Motion for Entitlement to and Award of Attorney's Fees and Costs (Doc. # 33).

         II. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff seeks default judgment against both Defendants for the violations alleged in her complaint. Specifically, Plaintiff seeks: (1) actual and compensatory damages for unpaid minimum wages; (2) an equal amount in liquidated damages; (3) reasonable attorney's fees and costs of suit; and (4) further relief the court deems just. (Doc. # 1 at 9).

         A. Plaintiff's Motion for Entry of Default Judgment is Granted

         Upon default, the defendant “admits the plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations of fact, is concluded on those facts by the judgment, and is barred from contesting on appeal the facts thus established.” Eagle Hosp. Physicians, LLC v. SRG Consulting, Inc., 561 F.3d 1298, 1307 (11th Cir. 2009) (quoting Nishimatsu Const. Co. v. Houston Nat'l Bank, 515 F.2d 1200, 1206 (5th Cir. 1975)). Because both Defendants failed to plead, answer, or otherwise respond to the complaint, default was entered by the Clerk of the Court as to Defendant Griffin on April 7, 2017 (Doc. # 24) and as to Defendant FLR on June 27, 2017 (Doc. # 30). Where, as here, Defendants have failed to appear, acknowledge, or otherwise defend the pendency of this lawsuit for over six months, entry of a default judgment is appropriate.

         Once liability is established and upon a plaintiff's request including an affidavit showing the amount due, a final judgment may be entered by the court[2] without a hearing if the claim “is for a sum certain or a sum that can be made by computation.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(1); see United States Artist Corp. v. Freeman, 605 F.2d 854, 857 (5th Cir.1979). “[A] plaintiff seeking default judgment must show the Court what those damages are, how they are calculated, and where they come from.” PNCEF, LLC v. Hendricks Bldg. Supply LLC, 740 F.Supp.2d 1287, 1292 (S.D. Ala. 2010). In this case, Plaintiff's damages are calculated based on the standards set forth in the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., and Plaintiff's affidavit testimony indicating that she worked 70 hours a week for $10.71 an hour (or $750 per week). (Doc. # 32-1 at 2, 3). Because overtime compensation is to be set at “a rate not less than one and one-half times the [employee's] regular rate, ” see 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1), Plaintiff contends that she should have been paid $16.06 for every hour worked beyond forty hours a week and is due $20, 223.00 in unpaid overtime wages. (See Id. at 4). Plaintiff has adequately supported her damages by outlining her calculations of such, illustrating that the damages sought are “for a sum certain or a sum that can be made by computation.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(1). Accordingly, Plaintiff is entitled to $20, 223.00 in unpaid overtime wages.

         Plaintiff also moved for liquidated damages equal to her actual damages. “When the jury finds an employer has violated the overtime provision of the FLSA and assesses compensatory damages, the district court generally must add an award of liquidated damages in the same amount, which doubles the total damages awarded.” Alvarez Perez v. Sanford-Orlando Kennel Club, Inc., 515 F.3d 1150, 1163 (11th Cir. 2008); see 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). An exception exists, however, if the employer can successfully show that they acted in good faith and had reasonable grounds for believing that they were not in violation of the FLSA. 29 U.S.C. § 260; see Rodriguez v. Farm Stores Grocery, Inc., 518 F.3d 1259, 1272 (11th Cir. 2008) (“Under the FLSA a district court must award a plaintiff liquidated damages that are equal in amount to actual damages.”). Because Defendants failed to appear or otherwise respond to Plaintiff's service of process, Defendants failed to show that they acted in good faith. As such, Plaintiff is owed liquidated damages in an additional amount equal to her unpaid wages ($20, 223.00), and judgment is due to be entered in the amount $40, 446.00.

         B. Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees ...


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