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Dakota Financial, LLC v. Dallas Trucking, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 20, 2016



          Paula Xinis United States District Judge.

         Pending in this case is Plaintiffs Motion for Default Judgment. ECF No. 19. The issues have been fully briefed and a hearing was held on Wednesday, September 7, 2016, with supplemental briefing to follow. ECF No. 26. For the following reasons, Plaintiffs motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 17, 2014, Plaintiff Dakota Financial ("Dakota") entered into a finance lease agreement with Defendant Dallas Trucking, LLC ("Dallas") whereby Dakota agreed to lease to Dallas a 2005 Mack Granite CV713 Tri-Axle Dump Truck, Vehicle Identification Number 1M1AG11Y35M018941 (the "Equipment").[1] ECF No. 1 at 2; ECF No. 1-2. According to the terms of the lease agreement, Dallas was required to pay monthly installments of $2, 737 to Dakota for forty-two months. Defendant Antonie Robinson signed as the guarantor of the lease, unconditionally guaranteeing, among other things, "the due and punctual payment and performance by [Dallas] of all Obligations" and "promis[ing] to pay all Obligations under the terms of the Lease." ECF No. 1-3. On March 23, 2016, Dakota filed a Complaint against Dallas and Robinson (collectively, “Defendants”), alleging that Dallas breached the terms of the finance lease by failing to make timely payments. Robinson likewise breached the lease agreement and also breached the guaranty agreement for his failure to make the necessary payments after Dallas defaulted on its obligations. Dakota also requested a writ of replevin for the immediate seizure and delivery of the truck back to Dakota. ECF No. 1 at 5-6. On June 13, 2016, the Clerk entered an Order of Default against the Defendants for failure to plead or otherwise defendant against the Complaint within the time allowed. ECF No. 18.

         On August 4, 2016, Dakota filed the pending Motion for Entry of Default Judgment, asking this Court to “[e]nter judgment by default, jointly and severally, against defendants Dallas Trucking, LLC and Antione Robinson, in the total amount of $83, 138.76, plus attorneys' fees, with post-judgement interest at the legal rate until the judgment is fully paid.” ECF No. 19 at 3. Dakota also requested the Court award possession of the Truck to Dakota and award Dakota “damages for the wrongful detention of the Equipment, . . . and enter judgment in Dakota's favor and against Defendant Dallas Trucking, LLC, in the amount of $25, 000.” Id.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Default Judgment

         Rule 55(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs default judgments. Rule 55(b)(1) provides that the clerk may enter a default judgment if the plaintiff's claim is “for a sum certain or a sum that can be made certain by computation.” A plaintiff's assertion of a sum in a complaint does not make the sum “certain” unless the plaintiff claims liquidated damages; otherwise, the complaint must be supported by affidavit or documentary evidence. See Medunic v. Lederer, 64 F.R.D. 403, 405 n.7 (E.D. Pa. 1974) (concluding that clerk could not enter default judgment where damages were not liquidated), rev'd on other grounds, 533 F.2d 891 (3d Cir. 1976). If the sum is not certain or ascertainable through computation, Rule 55(b)(2) provides:

[T]he party must apply to the court for a default judgment . . . . 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; or investigate any other matter.

         As the Court noted in Disney Enters. v. Delane, 446 F.Supp.2d 402, 405 (D. Md. 2006), this Circuit maintains a “strong policy that cases be decided on the merits.” Id. (quoting United States v. Shaffer Equip. Co., 11 F.3d 450, 453 (4th Cir. 1993)). But where the “adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party, ” default judgment is an appropriate vehicle to resolve the case. S.E.C. v. Lawbaugh, 359 F.Supp.2d 418, 421 (D. Md. 2005).

         In determining whether to award a default judgment, the Court will take as true the well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint, other than those pertaining to damages. Ryan v. Homecomings Fin. Network, 253 F.3d 778, 780 (4th Cir. 2001) (“‘The defendant, by his default, admits the plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations of fact, is concluded on those facts by the judgment, and is barred from contesting on appeal the facts thus established.'”) (quoting Nishimatsu Constr. Co. v. Houston Nat'l Bank, 515 F.2d 1200, 1206 (5th Cir. 1975)); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(b)(6). However, “[a] defendant's default does not in itself warrant the court in entering a default judgment. There must be a sufficient basis in the pleadings for the judgment entered.” DIRECTV, Inc. v. Pernites, 200 F. App'x 257, 258 (4th Cir. 2006) (quoting Nishimatsu, 515 F.2d at 1206). It remains “for the court to determine whether these unchallenged factual allegations constitute a legitimate cause of action.” Agora Fin., LLC v. Samler, 725 F.Supp.2d 491, 494 (D. Md. 2010); 10A ...

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