United States District Court, D. Maryland
J. MESSITTE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Kenneth Snowden, David Francis, Kevin Stewart, Darnell
Munden, Duran Carrington, and Michael Harris have filed a
Motion for Clerk's Entry of Default. ECF No. 18.
Defendants oppose the Motion and ask that they be granted
leave to file an untimely Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 20),
which they filed simultaneously with their Opposition (ECF
No. 21). For the reasons that follow, the Court will
DENY Plaintiffs' Motion and
GRANT Defendants' request for leave to
file a late Motion to Dismiss.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
are all Muslim inmates at Prince George's County
Department of Corrections. ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 10-15. On
January 18, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint alleging
various statutory and constitutional violations of their
right to free exercise of religion and religious
discrimination. ECF No. 1. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege
that Defendants have unlawfully implemented an Islam-specific
policy concerning the religious practices of Muslim inmates,
and not inmates of other faiths, and have arbitrarily and
unjustly prohibited Muslim inmates from performing Friday
religious services and daily congregational prayers; whereas,
inmates of other faiths are permitted to congregate regularly
throughout the day.
January 23, 2018, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint to
replace the “Unnamed Chaplain” and name Reverend
James Penn as a Defendant in his official and individual
capacities. ECF No. 12. On March 21, 2018, Plaintiffs filed
proof of service, indicating that all Defendants had been
served as of January 27, 2018, by certified mail. ECF No. 16.
no timely response was filed by Defendants, Plaintiffs filed
a Motion for Clerk's Entry of Default on April 4, 2018.
ECF No. 18. The next day, on April 5, 2018, Defendants filed
an Opposition to the Motion and simultaneously filed a Motion
to Dismiss. ECF Nos. 20, 21. Plaintiffs then filed a Reply
and an Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss. ECF Nos. 23, 24.
Rule of Civil Procedure 55(c) permits the Court to set aside
an entry of default for good cause. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(c).
“When deciding whether to set aside an entry of
default, a district court should consider whether the moving
party has a meritorious defense, whether it acts with
reasonable promptness, the personal responsibility of the
defaulting party, the prejudice to the party, whether there
is a history of dilatory action, and the availability of
sanctions less drastic.” Colleton Preparatory
Acad., Inc. v. Hoover Universal, Inc., 616 F.3d 413, 417
(4th Cir. 2010). The Fourth Circuit has repeated a strong
preference that, as a general matter, “defaults be
avoided and that claims and defenses be disposed of on their
merits.” Id. Delay in and of itself does not
constitute prejudice to the opposing party. Id. at
418. Just as there is “no cognizable prejudice inheres
in requiring a plaintiff to prove a defendant's
liability, a burden every plaintiff assumes in every civil
action filed in every federal court.” Id. at
Plaintiffs' Request for Entry of Default
light of the Fourth Circuit's “long-held view that
that Rule 55(c) motions must be ‘liberally construed in
order to provide relief from the onerous consequences of
defaults and default judgments, '” id. at
421, Plaintiffs' Motion is denied. Defendants'
correspondence with Plaintiffs' counsel reflects that
they believed there was an issue with service and that they
were willing to discuss a possible settlement in the case.
ECF No. 20 at 10. Moreover, the certified mail return
receipts are not signed and defense counsel represents that
there was a delay in receiving the Summons and Amended
Complaint. Id. at 3-4. According to defense counsel,
they alerted Plaintiffs' counsel of this issue and
Plaintiffs' counsel informed them that they would look
into it and “get back to [them].” Id. at
4. However, Plaintiffs' counsel responded the next day
that they were filing a request for entry of default.
Id. Defendant immediately opposed the request for
entry of default.
have since filed a Motion to Dismiss, arguing that Plaintiffs
have sued the wrong Defendant and should have sued Prince
George's County. ECF No. 21. The Motion also raises
issues regarding the damages sought under the Religious Land
Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Id.
Plaintiffs have indicated that they are willing to substitute
Defendants. ECF No. 23 at 2.
Defense counsel should have been more diligent in filing a
response in this case since they did in fact receive the
Summons and Amended Complaint, they have shown good cause to
avoid the “onerous consequences of default
judgment.” Colleton ...