United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
ALBERT CONRAD SPEED and FAYE SPEED, as Personal Representatives OF THE ESTATE OF ALBERT JAMES SPEED, Plaintiffs,
GESTAMP NORTH AMERICA, INC., et al., Defendants.
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
16, 2016, plaintiffs Albert Conrad Speed and Fay Speed, as
personal representatives of the Estate of Albert James Speed,
filed a wrongful death lawsuit against defendants Gestamp
North America, Inc.; Gestamp Alabama, LLC; Northwest Tool
& Die Company, Inc.; and Betz Industries. (Doc. 15, pp.
10-20). The Speeds assert claims against the
defendants for violation of the Alabama Extended
Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine (AEMLD), negligence,
Clerk of Court entered default on May 24, 2017 against
defendant Northwest Tool & Die Company, Inc. because
Northwest Tool & Die has not responded to the Speeds'
complaint. (Doc. 50). The Speeds now ask the Court to enter
default judgment against Northwest Tool & Die. (Doc. 60).
For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants the
Speeds' motion for default judgment.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Rule of Civil Procedure 55 establishes a two-step procedure
for obtaining a default judgment against a defendant who has
not appeared after being properly served with a complaint.
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).
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 the substantive merits of the complaint 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)).
FACTS & ALLEGATIONS
March 24, 2015, a 27, 770 pound transfer die fell on Albert
James Speed while he was working for Gestamp Alabama, LLC in
McCalla, Alabama. (Doc. 1-5, pp. 14-16, ¶¶ 13-14,
16). The transfer die that fell on Albert James Speed crushed
him to death. (Doc. 1-5, pp. 14-16, ¶¶ 13-14, 16).
designs, develops, and manufactures automotive components
using transfer dies which are “very large and heavy
stamping” devices that are placed in a stamping press.
(Doc. 1-5, p. 11, ¶¶ 4, 6; Doc. 1-5, p. 14, ¶
16). The stamping press uses hydraulic pressure to form sheet
metal into automotive components. (Doc. 1-5, p. 14, ¶
16). During the stamping process, Gestamp employees change
transfer dies to create different components. (Doc. 1-5,
¶¶ 15-16). Using “overhead lifting cables
attached to a crane hoist, ” employees move dies in and
out of the stamping press. (Doc. 1-5, p. 15, ¶ 16). The
Speeds allege that the transfer die at issue in this case
fell because “a retaining/lifting pin failed to remain
engaged” in the transfer die. (Doc. 1- 5, p. 16, ¶
16). In their complaint, the Speeds allege that defendant
Northwest Tool & Die “designed, manufactured, sold,
installed, repaired, and/or inspected” the transfer die
that fell on their son. (Doc. 1-5, p. 11, ¶
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Albert James Speed was an
Alabama citizen. (See Doc. 25-2, ¶ 7).
Therefore, the plaintiffs, as representatives of Albert James
Speed's estate, are Alabama citizens. See 28
U.S.C. § 1332(c)(2) (“[T]he legal representative
of the estate of a decedent shall be deemed to be a citizen
only of the same State as the decedent.”). The
defendants are citizens of Delaware and Michigan. (Doc. 1,
pp. 5-6). Accordingly, the parties are completely diverse.
Court finds that the Speeds assert a claim in excess of $75,
000. Under Alabama law, a plaintiff may recover only punitive
damages in a wrongful death action. Trott v. Brinks,
972 So.2d 81, 84 (Ala. 2007). Punitive damages are entirely
within the discretion of the jury under Alabama law, subject
to the trial court's post-verdict de novo
review. Bishop v. Chilton County, 990 So.2d 287, 290
(Ala. 2008) (an “‘award of punitive damages is
within the sound discretion of the jury, considering all
attendant circumstances . . . The jury's award is to
punish the wrongdoer based upon the enormity of the wrong to
the plaintiff, as well as the necessity to prevent similar
wrongs from being committed in the future.'”)
(quoting Roberson v. Ammons, 477 So.2d 957, 961 (Ala.
1985)); see also Ala. Code § 6-11-23
(de novo trial court review of punitive damages
situation like this in which the only measure of damages is
within a jury's discretion, the Court may rely on
“judicial experience and common sense” to
conclude that more than $75, 000 is in controversy. See
Roe v. Michelin N. Am., Inc., 613 F.3d 1058, 1062 (11th
Cir. 2010). This Court's experience and common sense,
informed by reasonable deductions based on the nature of the
conduct alleged and the nature of wrongful death recoveries
under Alabama law, convince the Court that more likely than
not more than $75, 000 is in controversy in this action.
See Roe, 613 F.3d at 1066 (11th Cir. 2010) (finding
that “judicial experience and common sense dictate that
the value” of a plaintiff's wrongful death claims
under Alabama law “more likely than not exceeds the
minimum jurisdictional requirement” for diversity of
citizenship jurisdiction); Nelson v. Whirlpool
Corp., 668 F.Supp.2d 1368, 1375-76 (S.D. Ala. 2009)
(“Few things would defy common sense more completely
than insisting that a suit for wantonly killing a human being
[--] in which the damages are designed to ...