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Hawkins v. MV Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 29, 2017

JOSEPHINE HAWKINS Plaintiff,
v.
MV TRANSPORTATION, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PETER J. MESSITTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On July 24, 2015, Pro Se Plaintiff Josephine Hawkins filed a Complaint in this Court against MV Transportation, Inc. (MV), alleging sex discrimination in employment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.. After a number of problems with service of process, on June 10, 2016, Hawkins filed a Proof of Service, showing service of the Summons and Complaint on The Corporation Trust Company (“CT Corporation”), MV's registered agent in the State of Maryland. MV never filed an answer nor, until very recently, did it enter an appearance in the case. Accordingly, Hawkins filed a Motion for Clerk's Entry of Default for want of an answer or other defense (ECF No. 20), and on November 4, 2016, the Clerk entered an Order of Default against MV (ECF No. 21). On March 21, 2017, Hawkins filed a Motion for Default Judgment (ECF No. 22), and on April 10, 2017, the Court entered a Default Judgment against MV in the amount of $75, 347.60 (ECF Nos. 23 & 24). On July 17, 2017, through counsel, Hawkins had a Writ of Garnishment issued to an MV bank account at Wells Fargo Bank in Riverdale, Maryland (ECF No. 28). The issuance of the Writ stirred MV out of its torpor, and on September 8, 2017, it filed the present Motion to Vacate Default Judgment (ECF No. 31).

         For the following reasons, MV's Motion to Vacate Default Judgment (ECF No. 31) will be DENIED.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         According to Hawkins, she began her employment with MV in November 2005 at MV's office in Hyattsville, Maryland. Aff. of Hawkins, ECF No. 22-1. As of March 2012, she was serving as a Lead Road Supervisor at MV at a salary of $19 per hour over a forty hour week, plus benefits, including four weeks of paid vacation per year. Id. In 2012, she began working for a new supervisor at MV, Dwayne Hendricks. Id. At the time Hendricks became Hawkins' supervisor, there were five other Lead Road Supervisors, all male. Compl., Attachment 1, ECF No. 1-1. Aff. of Hawkins. Hawkins had the second most seniority of the six. Aff. of Hawkins.

         Hawkins alleges that Hendricks interacted with her differently from the way he did with the other Lead Road Supervisors, solely because of her sex, treating her as if she occupied a lower job position than in fact she held. Compl., Attachment 1. Aff. of Hawkins. Due to this mistreatment, Hawkins claims to have made several complaints to Hendricks. Aff. of Hawkins. All of these complaints, she alleges, were ignored; indeed Hendricks not only dismissed her concerns, he acted maliciously toward her as a result. Id. After a year of alleged mistreatment, Hawkins brought her concerns to MV's Human Resources Department, which also did nothing to alleviate the situation. Id.

         On March 17, 2013, Hawkins claims she was constructively discharged from her position at MV, being unable to continue in what she describes was a discriminatory work environment. Compl., Attachment 1. Aff. of Hawkins. She then filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2014, which investigated her charge and concluded that Title VII had not been violated. Compl., Attachment 2, ECF No. 1-2. On April 24, 2015, the EEOC issued Hawkins a right to sue letter, giving her 90 days from the date she received the letter to file suit in federal court. Compl., Attachment 4, ECF No. 1-4.

         On July 24, 2015, Hawkins filed her pro se Complaint in this Court, raising the same allegations she had made before the EEOC. ECF No. 1. She sought monetary damages in the amount of $300, 000. Id. at 4.

         Hawkins had difficulties with service of process. She first failed to effect service at all, reporting to the Court that she was unaware that she had to serve MV and asking that she be given another opportunity. ECF No. 6. The Court granted her request and ordered the Clerk to re-issue summons. ECF No. 7. The Court then provided Hawkins ten (10) days to complete and return a request for summons to the Clerk and forty-five (45) days from the date the summons was reissued to effect service. Id.

         Hawkins' first attempt to effect service was unsuccessful. On January 11, 2016, after the Clerk reissued summons as to MV (ECF No. 8), she filed a Proof of Service that indicated that she herself had left the summons with the receptionist at the MV office at 6505 Belcrest Road, Suite 520, Hyattsville, Maryland, 20782. ECF No. 10. On March 14, 2016, the Court issued an Order to Hawkins to Show Good Cause why her Complaint should not be dismissed without prejudice for failure to timely serve MV, explaining that per the Maryland Rules of Procedure (MD R. Civ. P. 2-123, 2-124), service must be effected by a person who is not a party to the litigation and must be made on the defendant's resident agent. ECF No. 11. Hawkins responded that she was not aware that someone else needed to serve MV or that she had to serve MV's Resident Agent, and asked for yet another opportunity to effectuate service. ECF No. 12. The Court granted her request and gave her a third opportunity to effect service, ordering the Clerk to re-issue summons and providing Hawkins ten (10) days to complete and return summons to the Clerk and forty-five (45) days from the date the summons was reissued to effect service. ECF No. 13. On April 29, 2016, the Clerk reissued the Summons. ECF No. 14.

         Hawkins' final attempt to effectuate service was apparently successful, and on June 10, 2016, she filed a Proof of Service indicating that the Summons and Complaint had been personally served by Kim Robinson on Matthew Bartynski of CT Corporation in Baltimore, MV's Resident Agent. ECF No. 16. In order to be doubly certain that good service had been effected, the Court had its then law clerk, Christine Bonomo, Esquire, independently call MV's Resident Agent and speak to a representative in the Service of Process Department. That person confirmed that CT Corporation had indeed received the Complaint and Summons and had forwarded both to MV (this sequence is reflected in the Court's internal log, where all actions taken vis-à-vis its cases are recorded by date). The Court then had its law clerk attempt to phone MV at the location listed in Hawkins' Complaint, but there was no answer. The Court then had its clerk call other MV offices in the United States, one of whose franchisees suggested that MV's Maryland locations might no longer be in operation. But eventually, the law clerk determined that MV had a General Manager in MV's Baltimore location, whose name and number she obtained and whom she called, leaving multiple voicemails that he should contact the Court, but no response was ever forthcoming.

         On August 12, 2016, the Court sent a letter to Hawkins, informing her that she might be entitled to seek default judgment, and instructed her to advise the Court if she wanted the Court to appoint an attorney to assist her in that regard. Hawkins in fact requested that the Court appoint an attorney as to that (ECF No. 17), whereupon the Court appointed Jeremy R. Feldman, Esquire, as her counsel (ECF No. 18). Through Feldman, Hawkins subsequently filed a Motion for Clerk's Entry of Default (ECF No. 20), which the Clerk of the Court entered in favor of Hawkins on November 4, 2016 (ECF No. 21). And on March 21, 2017, Hawkins filed a Motion for Default Judgment, seeking $24, 240 in back pay and compensatory damages as well as $300, 000 in punitive damages against MV. ECF No. 22. On April 10, 2017, the Court granted Hawkins' Motion for Default Judgment, but limited the amount of damages to which she was entitled to back pay, lost fringe benefits, pre-judgment interest, and punitive damages, a total damage award of $75, 347.60. ECF Nos. 23 & 24.

         On July 13, 2017, Hawkins, through Attorney Feldman, filed a Request for Garnishment of Property Other Than Wages (Financial Institution), asking that the Court issue a Writ of Garnishment against MV's bank account at Wells Fargo Bank in Riverdale, Maryland. ECF No. 25. The Writ of Garnishment was issued on July 17, 2017 (ECF No. 28), and Wells Fargo Bank filed an Answer to the Writ, confessing assets soon thereafter (ECF No. 30).

         The Writ of Garnishment finally jolted MV into action. On September 8, 2017, it filed the present Motion to Vacate the Entry of Default, arguing that the Default Judgment was void because the Court lacked personal jurisdiction ...


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