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Speed v. Gestamp North America, Inc.

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

October 18, 2017

GESTAMP NORTH AMERICA, INC., et al., Defendants.



         On June 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).[1] The Speeds assert claims against the defendants for violation of the Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine (AEMLD), negligence, and wantonness.

         The 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.


         Federal 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).

         “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 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)).


         On 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).

         Gestamp 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, ¶ 5).[2]


         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         The 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.

         The 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 awards).

         In a 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 ...

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