United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
J. HAZEL United States District Judge
to the Court's diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332, Plaintiff Affinity Federal Credit Union
("Affinity") brings this civil action against
Michael Skarzynski ("Skarzynski"). Affinity alleges
that Skarzynski breached the terms of a settlement agreement
by failing to make regular monthly payments to Affinity to
resolve his unpaid debt obligations. ECF No. 1. Now pending
before the Court is Affinity's Motion for Default
Judgment. ECF No. 10. No hearing is necessary. Loc. R. 105.6
(D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, Plaintiffs Motion
for Default Judgment is denied.
November 20, 2015, Affinity and Skarzynski entered into a
settlement agreement resolving a lawsuit brought by Affinity
against Skarzynski and Daniel Skarzynski. ECF No. 1
¶ 5; see also ECF No. 1-1 at
1.As part of the settlement agreement,
Skarzynski acknowledged that he owed Affinity $186, 898.30 in
unpaid education loans and credit card debt. ECF No. 1
¶¶ 6-7. To satisfy this obligation, Skarzynski
agreed to make regular monthly payments of $1, 000.00 per
month, starting on January 1, 2016. Id. ¶ 8;
see also ECF No. 1-1 at 2. In exchange, Affinity
agreed to reduce the amount of Skarzynski's total debt
obligation to $163, 453.65. ECF No. 1 ¶ 8. The
settlement agreement also included language stating that if
Skarzynski failed to comply with his payment obligations,
Affinity could immediately bring suit for the entire debt
obligation, plus any accrued interest, along with a limited
amount of attorneys' fees incurred in litigating the
case. Id. ¶¶ 9-10; see also ECF
No. 1-1 at 4.
alleges that Skarzynski failed to make the monthly payments
that were due on July 1, 2016 and August 1, 2016. ECF No. 1
¶ 10. As required by the settlement agreement, Affinity
sent a notice to Skarzynski on August 2, 2016, advising him
that he had failed to make the above-referenced payments.
Id. ¶ 12; see also ECF No. 1-2.
Affinity claims that Skarzynski failed to cure his missed
payment and, thus, is in default of his obligation to
Affinity, entitling them to accelerate payment of his entire
debt obligation. ECF No. 1¶¶13, 15.
initiated this case on October 6, 2016, ECF No. 1, and
personally served Skarzynski with a copy of the summons, the
Complaint, and attached exhibits on October 12, 2016. ECF No.
6. On November 7, 2016, observing that Skarzynski had been
served, but no response appeared on the docket, the Court
ordered Affinity to file and serve a motion for clerk's
entry of default and a motion for default judgment, or
explain why such action would be inappropriate. ECF No. 7-1.
On November 14, 2016, a letter from Skarzynski was entered on
the Court's docket. ECF No. 8. The letter was titled
"Response to Summons" and included the case number
for the present case. Id. Although addressed to
Judge William Connolly, who presided over the settlement
conference in the prior litigation, the substance of the
letter addressed the allegations in the present case.
Specifically, Skarzynski stated that, contrary to
Affinity's allegations, he had made monthly payments from
January 1, 2016 through October 1, 2016 as required by the
settlement agreement and asked the Court not to enter
judgment against him. Id. Although the letter was
dated October 12, 2016, the date stamp on the envelope and a
signature on the first page of the document reflect that,
while the document was not docketed until November 14, 2016,
it was received by the Clerk's Office on October 31,
2016. Id. at 1, 4.
November 28, 2016, Affinity filed a Motion for Clerk's
Entry of Default, stating that Skarzynski's deadline to
file a responsive pleading had expired on November 3, 2016
and he had failed to answer or otherwise defend the action.
ECF No. 9. In a footnote, Affinity acknowledged that
Skarzynski had sent a letter to the Court on October 12,
2016, but stated that the letter referred to a previously
dismissed action and did not constitute an answer or
preliminary motion. Id. at 1 n.l. On December 7,
2016, Affinity filed a Motion for Default Judgment, ECF No.
10, requesting that the Court enter judgment in the amount of
$180, 003.45 in principal, $6, 183.47 in interest, and $3,
660.50 in attorney's fees, along with pre and
post-judgment interest. Id. at 4. On December 12,
2016, the Clerk entered an Order of Default against
Skarzynski. ECF No. 11.
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(c), a court may
"set aside an entry of default for good cause[.]"
Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(c). Here, although Affinity did not view it
as such, Skarzynski's letter to the Court on October 31,
2016 constitutes a responsive pleading. In a letter entitled
"Response to Summons" and captioned with the name
and number of the present case, Skarzynski denies the
allegations put forward by Affinity in the Complaint. ECF No.
8. Specifically, Skarzynski claims that he "has made
monthly payments of $1000 commencing January 2016 through
October 2016 by personal check payable to Affinity  and
mailed by regular USPS service to [Plaintiffs counsel]...
with protocol established in [the] November 2015 settlement
agreement." Id. Although Affinity argues that
this letter merely referred to a previously dismissed action
and did not constitute an answer or preliminary motion, ECF
No. 9 at 1 n.l, the content of the letter indicates
Skarzynski sought to defend himself against the new
allegations that Affinity brought against him in this present
case. Taking into consideration
Defendant'spro-se status, see Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (pro se filings
are to be "liberally construed") (internal citation
omitted), the Court finds that Skarzynski's letter
satisfies the requirements for a responsive pleading.
See Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 8(b) ("In responding to a
pleading, a party must (A) state in short and plain terms its
defenses to each claim asserted against it; and (B) admit or
deny the allegations asserted against it by an opposing
the Court holds that Skarzynski's response was timely
filed since a response was due on or before November 2, 2016,
and the date stamp on the letter reflects that it was
received by the Clerk's Office on October 31, 2016. ECF
No. 8. Therefore, and keeping in mind the Fourth
Circuit's "strong preference that... claims and
defenses be disposed of on their merits" Colleton
Preparatory Acad, Inc. v. Hoover Universal, Inc., 616
F.3d 413, 417 (4th Cir. 2010), the Court holds that
Skarzynski's October 31, 2016 letter constitutes a timely
response to Affinity's Complaint and it shall be docketed
as an Answer. Thus, the Clerk's Entry of Default, ECF No.
11, shall be vacated and Plaintiffs Motion for Default
Judgment, ECF No. 10, shall be denied.
foregoing reasons, Plaintiffs Motion for Default Judgment,
ECF No. 10, shall be denied. A separate Order follows.