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Smith v. Taulton

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

July 10, 2019

STEVE SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
BYRON TAULTON, JOHN DOE, Defendants.

          HONORABLE SEAN F. COX JUDGE.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION TO ENTER A DEFAULT JUDGMENT AGAINST DEFENDANT BYRON TAULTON

          ELIZABETH A. STAFFORD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         Pro se plaintiff Steve Smith brought this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 prisoner civil rights case in June 2017 alleging a violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. [ECF No. 1]. The Honorable Sean F. Cox referred the case to the undersigned to resolve all pretrial matters under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B). [ECF No. 7]. Defendant Byron Taulton was served on June 28, 2018, [ECF No. 17], and twice ordered to file an answer or other responsive pleading. [ECF Nos. 19, 22]. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(g)(2) (“The court may require any defendant to reply to a complaint brought under this section if it finds that the plaintiff has a reasonable opportunity to prevail on the merits.”). The orders warned Taulton that a failure to respond could result in a default judgment against him. [ECF Nos. 19, 22]. The deadlines given to Taulton have expired, and he has not responded to the complaint. The Court thus recommends that a default judgment be entered against him in an amount to be determined by Judge Cox.

         II. Analysis

         In Dell, Inc. v. Advicon Computer Servs., Inc., the court noted that, although no rule or statute authorizes entry of default judgment for failure to obey court orders in general, a court has the inherent authority to do so. No. 06-11224, 2007 WL 2021842, at *5 (E.D. Mich. July 12, 2007) (Lawson, J.). The Dell court cited several examples:

See In re Sunshine Jr. Stores, Inc., 456 F.3d 1291, 1304-06 (11th Cir. 2006) (upholding entry of default judgment as proper use of court's inherent authority where party failed to respond to court orders, failed to appear before the court, and failed to engage in court-ordered discovery); Thomas, Head, & Griesen Employees Trust v. Buster, 95 F.3d 1449, 1457-59 (9th Cir. 1996) (upholding entry of default judgment based on inherent authority where party completely ignored the terms of an injunctive order and other court orders); Shepherd v. American Broadcasting Cos., Inc., 62 F.3d 1469, 1472 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (‘As old as the judiciary itself, the inherent power enables courts to protect their institutional integrity and to guard against abuses of the judicial process with contempt citations, fines, awards of attorneys' fees, and such other orders and sanctions as they find necessary, including even dismissals and default judgments.'); see also Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 47-50, 111 S.Ct. 2123, 115 L.Ed.2d 27 (1991) (discussing the broad scope of a court's inherent authority).

Id. With no Sixth Circuit authority establishing the appropriate circumstances for entering a default judgment for failure to abide by court orders, the Dell court relied on the Sixth Circuit test for entering a default judgment as a discovery sanction:

(1) whether the conduct at issue was the result of willfulness, bad faith, or fault; (2) whether the adversary was prejudiced by the disobedient party's conduct; (3) whether the disobedient party was warned that failure to cooperate could lead to default judgment; and (4) whether less drastic sanctions were imposed or considered before entry of default judgment.

Id., (citing Bank One of Cleveland, N.A. v. Abbe, 916 F.2d 1067, 1073 (6th Cir. 1990)).

         In United States v. Griffin, the court relied on Dell to recommend a default judgment against the defendant. No. 12-13927, 2013 WL 1843779 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 20, 2013), adopted, 2013 WL 1831323 (E.D. Mich. Apr. 30, 2013). The defendant in Griffin had failed to respond to a motion for summary judgment despite being ordered to do so and warned about possible sanctions, including a grant of summary judgment in the plaintiff's favor. Id. at *1. The defendant failed to respond to both the motion for summary judgment and a show cause order. Id.

         Applying the four factors, the Griffin court found that the defendant's failures were her fault and emphasized that “the Court does not expect plaintiff to either wait indefinitely or continue to incur litigation expenses when it is clear that defendant has abandoned all defense of this matter.” Id. at *2. The Griffin court also saw “no utility in considering or imposing lesser sanctions” since the defendant had not filed responses as ordered, including her failure to respond to the show cause order. Id. The court thus recommended that a default judgment be entered in an amount to be determined by the district court, and that all pending motions be terminated as moot. Id.

         Application of the four factors outlined in Dell to this case renders the same recommendation as in Griffin. Taulton failed to respond to the complaint despite being ordered to do so in October 2018 and again in April 2019, and despite being warned that his failure to do so could result in a default judgment. Taulton's failure to respond to this Court's orders results from willfulness, bad faith or, at the very least, his fault. Taulton's failure to engage in this litigation has also prejudiced Smith because the matter has now been pending for over a year without progressing beyond the point of service. Smith's injuries, to the extent that they are actionable, remain unremedied. Smith should not be expected to wait indefinitely until Taulton is somehow compelled to participate in this litigation. Finally, like the court in Griffin, this Court sees no utility in considering or imposing lesser sanctions given Taulton's complete failure to respond as directed to previous orders. Thus, all the factors outlined in Dell weigh in favor of entering a default judgment against Taulton.

         III. ...


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