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Benton & Centeno LLP v. Clarke

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

November 21, 2019

BENTON & CENTENO, LLP, Plaintiff,
v.
THOMAS M. CLARKE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. DAVID PROCTOR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on the Motion for Default Judgment, filed by Plaintiff Benton & Centeno, LLP, (“Plaintiff”) on November 8, 2019, against Defendants Thomas M. Clarke and Ana M. Clarke (collectively “Defendants”). (Doc. # 11). On October 31, 2019, the Clerk recorded an Entry of Default against Defendants. (Doc. # 210). Plaintiff now seeks a Rule 55(b) default judgment for the monetary relief sought in the Complaint (Doc. # 1), an award totaling $105, 627.36. (Doc. # 11). For the reasons discussed below, the Motion (Doc. # 11) is due to be granted.

         I. Background

         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)). Plaintiff has alleged the following facts in its complaint, and these facts are deemed admitted based upon Defendants' default in this case. Benton & Centeno, LLP is a law firm based in Birmingham, Alabama. (Doc. # 1 at 1). Defendants Thomas M. Clarke and Ana M. Clarke are a married couple who live in Roanoke, Virginia. (Id.). On November 16, 2018, Defendants retained Plaintiff to perform legal services on their behalf with respect to the Mission Coal bankruptcy case, then pending in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Alabama. (Id. at 2). The agreement was memorialized in an engagement letter. (Doc. # 11, Exh. B at 46-49). In the engagement letter, the parties agreed that Plaintiff would be paid an agreed-upon hourly rate and would be reimbursed for litigation expenses. (Doc. # 1 at 2). Additionally, the engagement letter specified that Defendants would pay interest on invoices if they were not paid in full within thirty days. (Id; Doc. # 11, Exh. B at 48).

         After the engagement letter was executed, the representation of Defendants was subsequently enlarged to include handling matters for numerous entities owned in whole or in part by Thomas Clarke and/or Ana Clarke, all related to the pending Mission Coal bankruptcy case. (Doc. # 1 at 2). Plaintiff performed the agreed upon legal services on behalf of Defendants. (Id.).

         Plaintiff filed its Complaint on August 15, 2019. (Doc. # 1). On October 3, 2019, the Summons and Complaint were served on Defendants. As reflected in the proof of service submitted on October 9, 2019. (Docs. # 4, 5). Both Defendants failed to submit an Answer by October 27, 2019. Not only have Defendants failed to answer, they have not sought additional time to respond or made an appearance in the case. Plaintiff moved for Entry of Default against both Defendants on October 29, 2019. (Docs. # 6, 7). The Clerk of Court entered default against Defendants on October 31, 2019. (Doc. # 10). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Default Judgment and is seeking $105, 627.36 in damages (Doc. # 11 at 4). According to Plaintiff, Defendants owe $50, 631.80 in fees, $51, 971.88 in litigation expenses, [1] and $3, 023.68 for interest through July 2019.[2]

         II. Analysis

         Rule 55(b) states in relevant part:

(b) Entering a Default Judgment.
(1) By the Clerk. If the plaintiff's claim is for a sum certain or a sum that can be made certain by computation, the clerk--on the plaintiff's request, with an affidavit showing the amount due--must enter judgment for that amount and costs against a defendant who has been defaulted for not appearing and who is neither a minor nor an incompetent person.
(2) By the Court. In all other cases, the party must apply to the court for a default judgment. A default judgment may be entered against a minor or incompetent person only if represented by a general guardian, conservator, or other like fiduciary who has appeared. If the party against whom a default judgment is sought has appeared personally or by a representative, that party or its representative must be served with written notice of the application at least 7 days before the hearing. The court may conduct hearings or make referrals--preserving any federal statutory right to a jury trial--when, to enter or effectuate judgment, it needs to:
(A) conduct an accounting;
(B) determine the amount of damages;
(C) establish the truth of any allegation by evidence; ...

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