United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
case is before the court on plaintiff Northfield Insurance
Company's motion for default judgment against defendant
Jonathan Darnell. (Doc. 34). For the reasons explained below,
the court finds that the motion is due to be denied.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
spring of 2016, defendant Colin Browning, the owner and sole
member of defendant Browning Timber & Sawmill, LLC
retained a company called “Pier One” to build a
pier on his waterfront property. (Doc. 22, ¶ 11).
Brad Wilson worked for Pier One, and Pier One assigned Mr.
Wilson to work on Mr. Browning's pier. (Doc. 22, ¶
12). While working on Mr. Browning's pier, Mr. Wilson
asked whether Mr. Browning would be willing to cut some trees
on his (Mr. Wilson's) property for use as saw logs for
Browning Timber & Sawmill. (Doc. 22, ¶ 13). On April
3, 2016, Mr. Browning loaded a skid steer loader and drove to
Mr. Wilson's property. (Doc. 22, ¶ 14). On the way
to Mr. Wilson's property, Mr. Browning ran into a friend,
defendant Jonathan Darnell. (Doc. 22, ¶ 15). Mr. Darnell
was not affiliated with Browning Timber & Saw Mill, but
he accompanied Mr. Browning to Mr. Wilson's property.
(Doc. 22, ¶ 15).
Mr. Browning arrived at Mr. Wilson's property, he
realized that the trees were not suitable for his business,
but he agreed to stay and help Mr. Wilson pile up debris from
trees that Mr. Wilson already had cut. Mr. Darnell helped cut
some of the trees on Mr. Wilson's land. (Doc. 22, ¶
17). While cutting the trees, Mr. Darnell got a chainsaw
stuck in one of the trees. (Doc. 22, ¶ 18). Mr.
Browning's skid steer loader started having mechanical
problems, and Mr. Browning called a mechanic to come look at
the skid steer. (Doc. 22, ¶ 19). Mr. Browning and Mr.
Darnell left to pick up the mechanic, and Mr. Browning
dropped off Mr. Darnell where the two had met earlier in the
day. Mr. Browning then went to wait for the mechanic. (Doc.
22, ¶ 21).
telling Mr. Browning, Mr. Darnell returned to Mr.
Wilson's property. (Doc. 22, ¶ 23). Mr. Darnell
called Mr. Browning from Mr. Wilson's property and told
Mr. Browning that the tree in which the chainsaw had been
stuck fell over and struck Mr. Wilson. (Doc. 22, ¶ 24).
29, 2016, Mr. Wilson filed a complaint against Browning
Timber & Saw Mill in the Circuit Court for Etowah County,
Alabama seeking compensatory and punitive damages for the
injuries he sustained on April 3, 2016. (Doc. 22, ¶ 25;
Doc. 22-1). On October 24, 2017, Mr. Wilson amended his
complaint and added Mr. Browning and Mr. Darnell as
defendants. (Doc. 22, ¶ 30; Doc. 22-2).
case, Northfield Insurance Company seeks a declaratory
judgment that, pursuant to the terms of a Commercial General
Liability policy that Northfield issued to Browning Timber
& Saw Mill for the policy period of March 17, 2016 to
March 17, 2017, it is not obligated to defend or indemnify
Browning Timber & Sawmill, Mr. Browning, and Mr. Darnell
in the underlying state court action. (Doc. 22, ¶¶
Timber & Saw Mill, Mr. Browning, and Mr. Wilson have
appeared and are actively defending this action. Mr. Darnell
has not answered or appeared, and the Clerk entered default
against Mr. Darnell. (Doc. 35). Northfield now moves for
default judgment against Mr. Darnell.
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)). This general rule
is subject to exceptions. For example, where a case involves
multiple defendants, a court should not enter judgment
against a defaulting party who may be jointly liable, until
the court adjudicates the matter with respect to all
defendants. Frow v. De La Vega, 82 U.S. 552, 554
(1872). Moreover, if a plaintiff prevails against
non-defaulting defendants, then he is entitled to judgment
against all defendants, but if the non-defaulting defendants
prevail, then generally the judgment accrues to the benefit
of the defaulting defendant as well. Id. at 554
(“[I]f the suit should be decided against the
complainant on the merits, the bill will be dismissed as to
all the defendants alike the defaulter as well as the others.
If it be decided in the complainant's favor, he will then
be entitled to a final decree against all. But a final decree
on the merits against the defaulting defendant alone, pending
the continuance of the cause, would be incongruous and
prohibition against inconsistent judgments extends to
situations beyond that involving joint liability. In Gulf
Coast Fans v. Midwest Electronics Importers, Inc., 740
F.2d 1499 (11th Cir. 1984), the Eleventh Circuit described as
“sound policy” the rule that “when
defendants are similarly situated, but not jointly liable,
judgment should not be entered against the default defendant
if the other defendant prevails on the merits.”
Id. at 1512.
the situation here. Northfield seeks the same relief as to
all defendants-a declaration that there is no coverage under
the insurance policy that it issued to Browning Timber &
Saw Mill. Three of the four defendants are defending
Northfield's declaratory judgment claim. If the court
enters default judgment against Mr. Darnell and the ...