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Phillips v. Sigma Security, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 21, 2016

DEANNA PHILLIPS, et al, Plaintiffs,
v.
SIGMA SECURITY, LLC, et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          ELLEN L. HOLLANDER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On March 18, 2016, Deanna Phillips and Camille Bivins, plaintiffs, filed suit against Sigma Security, LLC ("Sigma") and Richard Fleurimond. Plaintiffs asserted wage claims against defendants under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201, et seq. ("FLSA"); the Maryland Wage and Hour Law ("MWHL"), § 3-401 et seq. of the Labor & Employment Article ("L.E.") of the Maryland Code; and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law, L.E. §§ 3-501, et seq., ("MWPCL"). In addition to unpaid wages, plaintiff requested treble damages, reasonable attorneys' fees, and costs.[1]

         Both defendants were served. See ECF 3 (Sigma); ECF 9 (Fleurimond). But, neither responded to the suit. Therefore, on October 30, 2016, plaintiffs filed a Motion for Clerk's Entry of Default For Want of Answer. ECF 10. The Clerk entered orders of default as to both defendants on September 15, 2016. ECF 11.

         Thereafter, on October 21, 2016, plaintiffs filed a "Motion For Judgment By Default" against both defendants. ECF 12 ("Motion"). It is supported by "Affirmation in Support of Motion for Judgment by Default" ("Motion"), executed under penalty of perjury by George Swegman, counsel for plaintiff. ECF 12-1. In addition, the Motion is supported by affidavits as to damages submitted by Phillips (ECF 12-2) and Bivins (ECF 12-3). Plaintiffs' counsel also submitted an affidavit as to attorneys' fees and costs (ECF 12-4), accompanied by billing records for himself and a paralegal, and a "Non-Military Affidavit" (ECF 12-5). Finally, plaintiffs submitted a proposed order. See ECF 12-6.

         Defendants have not responded to the Motion, and the time to do so has expired. Local Rule 105.2.

         No hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I shall grant the Motion but I shall reduce the award of attorneys' fees.

         Discussion

         A.

         Sigma is a private security services organization that provides physical security on contract to various government and private entities in the Baltimore area. ECF 1 at 1. It is owned and operated by Fleurimond. Id. Plaintiffs worked as security guards for Sigma at various locations. Id.

         Rule 55(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil procedure governs default judgments. In particular, Rule 55(b)(1) provides that the clerk may enter a default judgment if the plaintiffs claim is "for a sum certain or a sum that can be made certain by computation."[2] But, "[a] plaintiffs 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. Monge v. Portofino Ristorante, 751 F.Supp.2d 789, 794 (D. Md. 2010) (Grimm, M.J).[3]

         To be sure, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has a "strong policy that cases be decided on the merits." United States v. Shaffer Equip. Co., 11 F.3d 450, 453 (4th Cir. 1993); see Tazco, Inc. v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Program, 895 F.2d 949, 950 (4th Cir. 1990); Disney Enters, v. Delane, 446 F.Supp.2d 402, 405 (D. Md. 2006). But, that policy is not absolute. Default judgment '"is appropriate when the "adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party.'" Entrepreneur Media, Inc. v. JMD Entertainment Group, LLC, 958 F.Supp.2d 588, 593 (D. Md. 2013) (quoting SEC v. Lawbaugh, 359 F.Supp.2d 418, 421 (D. Md. 2005)).

         As noted, defendants did not respond to the suit. Therefore, all of plaintiffs' factual allegations, other than those pertaining to damages, are deemed admitted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(b)(6); see also Ryan v. Homecomings Fin. Network, 253 F.3d 778, 780 (4th Cir. 2001) (stating that the court accepts as true the well pleaded factual allegations in the Complaint as to liability). But, the court must determine whether the undisputed factual allegations constitute valid causes of action. Id. at 780-81; see also 10A Wright, Miller & Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2688 (3d ed. 2010 Supp.) ("[L]iability is not deemed established simply because of the default... and the court, in its discretion, may require some proof of the facts that must be established in order to determine liability.").

         If the court is satisfied that liability has been established, it must then determine the appropriate amount of damages. Ryan, 253 F.3d at 780-81. Notably, allegations "relating to the amount of damages" are not deemed admitted based on a defendant's failure to respond to a suit. Fed R. Civ. P. 8(b)(6); see Ryan, 253 F.3d at 780 ("'[D]efault is not treated as an absolute confession by the defendant of his liability and of the plaintiffs right to recover'") (citation omitted); Monge, 751 F.Supp.2d at 794; Trs. of the Elec. Welfare Trust Fund v. MH Passa Elec. Contracting, Inc., No. DKC-08-2805, 2009 WL 2982951, at *1 (D. Md. Sept. 14, 2009) ("Upon default, the well-pled allegations in a complaint as to liability are taken as true, although the allegations as to damages are not."); Pentech Fin. Servs., Inc. v. Old Dominion Saw Works, Inc., No. 6:09cv00004, 2009 WL 1872535, at *1 (W.D. Va. June 30, 2009) ("Upon default judgment, Plaintiffs factual allegations are accepted as true for all purposes excluding determination of damages."). Rather, the court must make an independent determination regarding allegations as to damages. See Credit Lyonnais Sec. (USA), Inc. v. Alcantara, 183 F.3d 151, 154 (2d Cir. 1999).

         In its determination, the court may conduct an evidentiary hearing. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2). However, the court may also make a determination of damages without a hearing, so long as there is an adequate evidentiary basis in the record to support an award of the requested damages. See Adkins v. Teseo, 180 F.Supp.2d 15, 17 (D.D.C. 2001) ("[T]he court may rely on detailed affidavits or documentary evidence to determine the appropriate sum."); see also Trustees of the Nat'l Asbestos Workers Pension Fund v. Ideal Insulation, Inc., Civil No. ELH-11-832, 2011 WL 5151067, at *4 (D. Md. Oct. 27, 2011) (determining that, in a case of default judgment against an employer, "the Court may award damages without a hearing if the record supports the damages requested"); Monge, 751 F.Supp.2d at 795 (same); Pentech Fin. Servs., Inc., Civ. No. 6:09cv00004, 2009 WL 1872535, at *2 (concluding that there was "no need to convene a formal evidentiary hearing on the issue of damages" after default judgment because plaintiff submitted affidavits and records establishing the amount of damages); JTH Tax, Inc. v. Smith, Civil No. 2.-06CV76, 2006 WL 1982762, at *3 (E.D. Va. June 23, 2006) ("If the defendant does not contest the amount pleaded in the complaint and the claim is for a sum that is certain or easily computable, the judgment can be entered for that amount without further hearing.").

         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(c), "[a] default judgment must not differ in kind from, or exceed in amount, what is demanded in the pleadings." See In re Genesys Data Techs, Inc.,204 F.3d 124, 132 (4th Cir. 2000) ("When a Complaint demands a specific amount of damages, courts have generally held that a default judgment cannot award additional damages."). This is meant to enable the defendant ...


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