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National Electrical Benefit Fund v. Lewis Electric, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 16, 2017

NATIONAL ELECTRICAL BENEFIT FUND Plaintiff,
v.
LEWIS ELECTRIC, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DATE PAULA XINIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On February 13, 2017, Plaintiff National Electrical Benefit Fund (“NEBF”) filed its complaint in the above-captioned case. ECF No. 1. Summonses were served on the Defendant, Lewis Electric, LLC (“Lewis”). ECF No. 4. On April 4, 2017, the Plaintiff moved for entry of default against the Defendant pursuant to Rule 55(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ECF No. 5. The Clerk entered default on April 13, 2017. ECF No. 7. NEBF has moved for default judgment. ECF No. 6. Lewis has not filed a response, and the time for doing so has passed. See Loc. R. 105.2.a. Pursuant to Local Rule 105.6, a hearing is not necessary. For the reasons stated herein, NEBF's Motion for Default Judgment is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This action is brought by the trustees of NEBF, a multiemployer pension plan, against Lewis, an employer that is obligated to contribute to the NEBF pursuant to its collective bargaining agreements with the IBEW Local Union 1186 and the NEBF plan documents. ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 1, 4, 5, 6, 7. NEBF alleges that, notwithstanding its obligations pursuant to the collective bargaining agreements and the NEBF plan Trust Agreement, Lewis has been delinquent in making contributions to the NEBF. Id. ¶ 8. NEBF seeks a judgment in the amount of $14, 016.11 reflecting delinquent contributions between December 2015 and June 2016, interest, liquidated damages, and attorney's fees, as well as an order directing Lewis to provide monthly payroll reports or access to Lewis's books and records from July 2016 forward. ECF No. 6 at 2.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Default Judgment

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b) provides that default judgment may be entered “[i]f the plaintiff's claim is for a sum certain or a sum that can be made certain by computation” and the defendant is in default for failing to appear. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(1). The entry of default judgment is a matter within the discretion of the Court. SEC v. Lawbaugh, 359 F.Supp.2d 418, 421 (D. Md. 2005) (citing Dow v. Jones, 232 F.Supp.2d 491, 494 (D. Md. 2002)).

         Although “the Fourth Circuit has a ‘strong policy that cases be decided on the merits, '” Disney Enters. v. Delane, 446 F.Supp.2d 402, 405 (D. Md. 2006) (quoting United States v. Shaffer Equip. Co., 11 F.3d 450, 453 (4th Cir. 1993)), “default judgment is available when the ‘adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party, ' ” id. (quoting Lawbaugh, 359 F.Supp. at 421). It is within the Court's discretion to grant default judgment when a defendant is unresponsive. See Park Corp. v. Lexington Ins. Co., 812 F.2d 894, 896 (4th Cir. 1987) (upholding a default judgment awarded where the defendant lost its summons and did not respond within the proper period); Disney Enters., 446 F.Supp.2d at 405-06 (finding appropriate the entry of default judgment where the defendant had been properly served with the complaint and did not respond, despite repeated attempts to contact him).

         To determine whether a default judgment is appropriate, the Court engages in a two-step inquiry: First, the Court must decide “whether the unchallenged facts in plaintiff['s] complaint constitute a legitimate cause of action.” Agora Fin., LLC v. Samler, 725 F.Supp.2d 491, 494 (D. Md. 2010). Second, if the Court finds liability is established, it must “make an independent determination regarding the appropriate amount of damages.” Id. The Court may hold a hearing to determine damages, or it may rely on detailed affidavits or other documentary evidence. Lipenga v. Kambalame, 219 F.Supp.3d 517, 525 (D. Md. 2016).

         Lewis was served with copies of the Complaint in February of 2017 and failed to respond. See ECF No. 4. Accordingly, all of NEBF's allegations-other than those pertaining to damages-are deemed admitted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(b)(6). Lewis also did not respond to NEBF's motion for entry of default judgment, nor did it move to set aside the Order of Default entered by the Clerk of the Court. This Court will exercise its discretion to grant default judgment in light of the Defendant's failure to respond. See Educ. Credit Mgmt. Corp. v. Optimum Welding, 285 F.R.D. 371, 373 (D. Md. 2012).

         B. Liability

         NEBF has pleaded adequately that Lewis has violated 29 U.S.C. § 1145 by failing to make contributions required pursuant to collective bargaining agreements and the NEBF Trust Agreement. The Trust Agreement makes plain that a covered employer is obligated to make periodic contributions to the NEBF. ECF No. 6-2 at 6. NEBF has alleged that Lewis has failed to make its contributions, and in support of its claims, NEBF has submitted the affidavit of Angel Losquadro, Director of NEBF's Audit and Delinquency Department, with a copy of the relevant portions of the Trust Agreement and a report of delinquent payments ascertained from Lewis' self-reported accounting to NEBF. See ECF No. 6-2 at 1-3, 5-12; 14. The affidavit, along with its exhibits and additional exhibits provided to the Court with respect to damages, clearly establish Lewis' liability. Accordingly, default judgment will be entered in NEBF's favor.

         C. Damages

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(c) provides that “[a] judgment by default shall not be different in kind from or exceed in amount that prayed for in the demand for judgment.” The Court must make an independent ...


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