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Abrams v. Corrections Officer Waters

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 16, 2019

DAVID A. ABRAMS, No. 241224, a/k/a ABRAHAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
CORRECTIONS OFFICER WATERS AND CAPT. NUNEZ, sued in their individual capacities; CORRECTIONS OFFICER PHILLIPS; DISCIPLINARY REPORT INVESTIGATOR KELLY; CAPT. JOHN WATSON; WARDEN SCOTT ERFE; MAINTENANCE SUPERVISOR JOHN DOE; and MAILROOM HANDLER CORRECTIONS OFFICER RAMIREZ, sued in their individual and official capacity, Defendants.

          ORDER RE DEFAULTED STATUS OF DEFENDANTS

          CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Pro se plaintiff, David A. Abrams, an inmate currently incarcerated at Garner Correctional Institution at Newtown, Connecticut, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against various prison officials employed at Cheshire Correctional Institution ("Cheshire C.I."), where he was previously housed. Upon entry of the Court's Initial Review Order ("IRO"), three federal Eighth Amendment claims remain pending in this case: (1) excessive force against Corrections Officer Phillips, (2) "failure to protect from harm" against Captain Nunez, and (3) unlawful subjection to hazardous conditions of confinement against Captain Watson. Abrams v. Waters, No. 3:17-CV-1659 (CSH), 2018 WL 691717, at *17 (D. Conn. Feb. 2, 2018). The Court also permitted the state law claims of assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress to proceed against Phillips in his individual capacity for damages. Id., at *14-15.

         Subsequently, Plaintiff moved for leave to amend his Complaint. That motion was granted because a plaintiff may file an amended complaint once as a matter of course within 21 days after service of the complaint, Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a). However, in performing its mandatory sua sponte review of the amended claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court determined that "the claims Plaintiff ha[d] attempted to reinstate and the newly added claim for First Amendment retaliation against Erfe and Watson fail[ed] to state claims upon which relief may be granted." Abrams v. Waters, No. 3:17-CV-1659 (CSH), 2018 WL 2926294, at *2 (D. Conn. June 8, 2018) (citing 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b)(1), 1915(e)(2)). Therefore, Abrams's amended complaint was "allowed to proceed only with respect to claims upon which relief may be granted," id., at *2, namely, those previously designated as viable by the Court in its original IRO, id., at *9.

         Upon the Court's acceptance of the Amended Complaint, the remaining defendants in the action, Phillips, Nunez, and Watson (herein collectively "Defendants") were required to answer or respond to that pleading by July 6, 2018. Id., at *9. When the Defendants failed to file such a responsive pleading by that deadline, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Default Entry pursuant to Rule 55(a), Fed. R. Civ. P., and three weeks later a Motion for Default Judgment. Doc. 26, 27. The Court denied these motions without prejudice because it determined that the Amended Complaint was not actually filed on the case docket by the Clerk's Office until August 20, 2018, "so that the defendants in the action had no opportunity to respond to it by the Court's previously imposed deadline of July 6, 2018." Doc. 29. Accordingly, the Court "re-set [the] deadline for defendants to respond to the Amended Complaint [to] September 17, 2018." Id.

         Defendants failed to appear or answer by the Court's re-set deadline so that Plaintiff moved again for entry of default under Rule 55(a). Doc. 33. The Clerk entered an "Order" granting the motion and set the deadline for Plaintiff to move for default judgment to December 5, 2018.[1] Doc. 35. In response to that default Order, Defendants filed an "Answer" to the Amended Complaint. Doc. 36. However, Defendants failed to file a motion to open the default prior to filing that Answer. For the reasons described herein, the filing of an Answer is insufficient for the Court to open the default.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standards for Entry and Opening of Default under Rule 55, Fed. R. Civ. P.

         1. Entry of Default

         "Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55 is the basic procedure to be followed when there is a default in the course of litigation." Vt. Teddy Bear Co. v. 1-800 Beargram Co., 373 F.3d 241, 246 (2d Cir. 2004). Under Rule 55, there is a "two-step process" for the entry of judgment against a party who fails to appear or otherwise defend. First, the Plaintiff seeks and obtains entry of a default, and second, Plaintiff obtains entry of a default judgment. New York v. Green, 420 F.3d 99, 104 (2d Cir. 2005).

         Under Rule 55(a), the entry of default "formalizes a judicial recognition that a defendant has, through its failure to defend the action, admitted liability to the plaintiff." City of New York v. Mickalis Pawn Shop, LLC, 645 F.3d 114, 128 (2d Cir. 2011). As a first step to default, Rule 55(a) provides:

When a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend, and that failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise, the clerk must enter the party's default.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(a).

         Although Rule 55(a) makes entry of default a ministerial step to be performed by the clerk of court, Pinaud v. Cnty. of Suffolk, 52 F.3d 1139, 1152 n.11 (2d Cir.1995), a district judge has the inherent power to enter default as well, Beller & Keller v. Tyler, 120 F.3d 21, 22 n. 1 (2d Cir.1997). The entry of a default, while establishing liability, "is ...


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