United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the court on Plaintiff Northfield
Insurance Company's (“Northfield”) renewed
motion for default judgment against Defendant Jonathan
Darnell. (Doc. 71). Because Northfield's well-pleaded
allegations support its claim for a declaratory judgment that
it does not owe a duty to defend or indemnify Mr. Darnell in
an underlying state court action, the court
GRANTS Northfield's motion.
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) (quotation marks omitted)). Accordingly, the
court takes as true the well- pleaded allegations of
Northfield's amended complaint. Those allegations
establish the following facts.
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 property. (Doc. 22 at ¶ 11). Defendant Brad
Wilson worked for Pier One, and Pier One assigned Mr. Wilson
to work on Mr. Browning's pier. (Doc. 22 at ¶ 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 at ¶ 13). On
April 3, 2016, on the way to Mr. Wilson's property, Mr.
Browning ran into a friend, Defendant Jonathan Darnell. (Doc.
22 at ¶¶ 14-15). Mr. Darnell was not affiliated
with Browning Timber & Saw Mill, but he accompanied Mr.
Browning to Mr. Wilson's property. (Doc. 22 at ¶
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 at
¶ 17). While cutting the trees, Mr. Darnell got a
chainsaw stuck in one of the trees. (Doc. 22 at ¶ 18).
After the chainsaw became stuck, Mr. Browning and Mr. Darnell
left the Wilson property to pick up a mechanic to work on Mr.
Browning's broken skid steer loader, and Mr.
dropped off Mr. Darnell where the two had met earlier in the
day. (Doc. 22 at ¶¶ 19, 21).
telling Mr. Browning, Mr. Darnell returned to Mr.
Wilson's property. (Doc. 22 at ¶ 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 at ¶
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 at ¶
25; Doc. 22-1). On October 24, 2017, Mr. Wilson amended his
complaint to add Mr. Browning and Mr. Darnell as defendants.
(Doc. 22 at ¶ 30; Doc. 22-2).
case, Northfield seeks a declaratory judgment that, pursuant
to the terms of a Commercial General Liability Policy (the
“Policy”) issued to Browning Timber & Saw
Mill, it is not obligated to defend or indemnify Mr. Darnell
in the underlying state court action. (Doc. 22 at
¶¶ 34, 38-42).
filed its amended complaint on March 7, 2018 and added Mr.
Darnell as a defendant to this action. (Doc. 22). According
to the court's docket, Northfield served Mr. Darnell with
a copy of the summons and the amended complaint on April 8,
2018. (Doc. 28). After Mr. Darnell failed to plead or
otherwise defend the action, Northfield moved for an entry of
default against Mr.
which the Clerk entered. (Docs. 33, 35). On May 25, 2018,
Northfield filed a motion for default judgment against Mr.
Darnell. (Doc. 34). The court denied the motion without
prejudice because the other Defendants to this declaratory
judgment lawsuit had appeared and were defending the lawsuit.
(Doc. 37). In its January 8, 2019 memorandum opinion, the
court entered judgment as a matter of law in favor of
Northfield against the other Defendants and instructed
Northfield to renew its motion for default judgment against
Mr. Darnell or voluntary dismiss its claims against Mr.
Darnell. (Doc. 70 at 14). On January 14, 2019, Northfield
filed a renewed motion for default judgment against Mr.
Darnell. (Doc. 71).
Rule of Civil Procedure 55 establishes a two-step procedure
for obtaining a default judgment. First, when a defendant
fails to plead or otherwise defend a lawsuit, the Clerk of
Court must enter the party's default. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a).
Second, if the defendant is not an infant or an incompetent
person, the court may enter a default judgment against the
defendant as long as the well-pleaded allegations in the
complaint state a claim for relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b);
Nishimatsu Contr. Co. v. Houston Nat'l Bank, 515
F.2d 1200, 1206 (5th Cir. 1975). The Clerk has already
entered Mr. Darnell's ...