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Peace v. Rock

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

June 24, 2019

TAMERA JEAN PEACE, as Administrator of the Estate of Donald Ray Peace, Plaintiff,
v.
KEITH ROCK, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is before the court on Plaintiff Tamara Jean Peace's second renewed motion for default judgment against Defendant Berkeley Scrap Metal.[1](Doc. 42). Ms. Peace filed suit against, among others, Berkeley Scrap Metal, for the wrongful death of Donald Ray Peace in a car accident with its employee, Keith Rock. (See generally Doc. 1-8 at 99-114). Ms. Peace asserted claims of negligence; wanton and reckless conduct; negligent, reckless, and/or wanton violations of the rules of the road; and negligent entrustment. (Id. at 108-10).

         The court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the second renewed motion for default judgment. Because the well-pleaded allegations and evidence submitted establish that Berkeley Scrap Metal is liable under a theory of respondeat superior for Keith Rock's negligence, the court finds that Berkeley Scrap Metal is liable for negligence and GRANTS the motion as to that claim. But because Ms. Peace has abandoned her claim for wanton and reckless conduct, the court DENIES the motion for default judgment on that claim. The court DENIES the motion for default judgment on the claim of negligent, reckless, and/or wanton violations of the rules of the road because Ms. Peace failed to present any argument about that claim. Finally, the court DENIES the motion for a default judgment on the claim of negligent entrustment because Ms. Peace neither alleged nor presented evidence that Berkeley Scrap Metal had knowledge of Mr. Rock's incompetence.

         In her second renewed motion for a default judgment, Ms. Peace requested that the court award her $5, 000, 000 in punitive damages. (Doc. 42 at 10-11). Because the court cannot enter that award on the record currently before it, the court DEFERS RULING on the motion. The court will set a jury trial on damages by separate order.

         I. FACTS

         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) (quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, for purposes of this motion for default judgment, the court takes as true the well-pleaded allegations of Ms. Peace's amended complaint, as well as the supplemental evidence she submitted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b)(2)(C).

         On May 23, 2017, Mr. Rock drove a trailer owned by Berkeley Scrap Metal to Alabama to pick up a load of scrap aluminum that Berkeley Scrap Metal had hired him to transport. (Doc. 1-8 at 105 ¶ 11, 106 ¶ 14; Doc. 42-1 at 15-17, 26). Mr. Rock arrived at the business to pick up the load around 3:00 a.m. (Doc. 42-1 at 25). Believing that he needed to turn the tractor-trailer around, Mr. Rock continued driving past the business until he found a side street. (Id.). In an attempt to turn the truck around, he blocked both the northbound and southbound lanes of a highway. (Doc. 1-8 at 105 ¶ 10; Doc. 42-1 at 27). Mr. Peace then drove into the side of the tractor-trailer. (Doc. 1-8 at 105 ¶ 10; Doc. 42-1 at 28). Mr. Peace eventually died from the injuries he sustained in the crash. (Doc. 1-8 at 105 ¶ 10).

         Before the crash, Mr. Rock had had his commercial driver's license suspended “[m]aybe three times” for failure to pay fines. (Doc. 42-1 at 4-5). He also has two convictions for drug trafficking and one for his trailer missing a VIN plate. (Doc. 42-1 at 5-6).

         Ms. Peace, as the administrator of Mr. Peace's estate, filed this lawsuit against several defendants, asserting state law claims for negligence; wanton and reckless conduct; negligent, reckless, and/or wanton violations of the rules of the road; and negligent entrustment. (Doc. 1-8 at 108-110). All of the defendants except Berkeley Scrap Metal appeared, and Ms. Peace dismissed all of the claims against those defendants with prejudice. (Doc. 40). Berkeley Scrap Metal, however, has not appeared, and on July 9, 2018, the Clerk entered default against it. (Doc. 24). Ms. Peace now moves for a default judgment against Berkeley Scrap Metal. (Doc. 36).

         II. DISCUSSION

         Federal 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).[2]

         Here, Ms. Peace has obtained from the Clerk an entry of default against Berkeley Scrap Metal, so she has satisfied the first step of the procedure. The court must now determine whether the well-pleaded allegations and evidence submitted in support of default judgment establish that Berkeley Scrap Metal is liable for negligence; wanton and reckless conduct; negligent, reckless, and/or wanton violations of the rules of the road; and negligent entrustment.

         To do so, the court must determine whether the claims would “survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.” Surtain v. Hamlin Terrace Found., 789 F.3d 1239, 1245 (11th Cir. 2015). “When evaluating a motion to dismiss, a court looks to see whether the complaint ‘contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)) (some quotation marks omitted) (alteration in original). A claim to relief is plausible on its face if “the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)) (quotation marks omitted). “[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Before addressing whether Ms. Peace has satisfied this standard, the court must address two preliminary issues. First, although Ms. Peace's motion acknowledges the existence of her claim of negligent, reckless, and/or wanton violations of the rules of the road, she does not set out the elements of such a claim or any argument explaining how the well-pleaded allegations in her complaint satisfy that claim. Accordingly, the court DENIES ...


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