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Fidrych v. Marriott International, Inc.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

November 29, 2017

Anthony M. Fidrych and Patricia Anne Fidrych, Plaintiffs,
v.
Marriott International, Inc., Defendant.

          ORDER

          PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Marriott International, Inc.'s motion to set aside default pursuant to Rules 55(c) and 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (ECF No. 13). For the reasons set forth herein, Marriott's motion is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         This action arises out of an accident that occurred at the Boscolo Milano hotel in Milan, Italy. The Fidryches allege that the Boscolo Milano is one of Marriott's Autograph Collection of hotels. Plaintiff Anthony Fidrych travelled to Milan as a pilot for the Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation. While in Milan, he stayed at the Boscolo Milano, and he was injured when a shower door at the hotel shattered. He alleges that he is permanently disabled as a result of the accident and is no longer able to fly.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The Fidryches filed their complaint on August 17, 2017. Marriott did not file an answer, and the Fidryches moved for an entry of default on September 20. The Clerk entered the default the next day. Then, on October 10, the Fidryches moved for a default judgment. The Court granted that motion on October 11, and noticed a hearing on damages for December 12. Marriott then moved to set aside the default and the default judgment on October 17. The Fidryches responded on October 31, and Marriott replied on November 7. Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for consideration.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 55(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that “[t]he court may set aside an entry of default for good cause, and it may set aside a final default judgment under Rule 60(b).” In considering a motion to set aside an entry of default, the Fourth Circuit has stated:

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) (quoting Payne ex rel. Estate of Calzada v. Brake, 439 F.3d 198, 204-05 (4th Cir. 2006)). Additionally, the Fourth Circuit has “repeatedly expressed a strong preference that, as a general matter, defaults be avoided and that claims and defenses be disposed of on their merits.” Id. The Fourth Circuit uses the same factors to analyze Rule 55(c) and 60(b) motions, but “the burden on a movant seeking relief under the two rules is not the same.” Id. at 420. “Rule 60(b) motions request relief from judgment, which implicates an interest in finality and repose, . . . a situation that is not present when default has been entered under Rule 55(a) and no judgment has been rendered.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). “Therefore, while an analysis under each rule employs similar factors, Rule 60(b)'s excusable neglect standard is a more onerous standard than Rule 55(c)'s good cause standard, which is more forgiving of defaulting parties because it does not implicate any interest in finality.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         Before addressing the merits of Marriott's motion, the Court must determine whether to analyze Marriott's motion under Rule 55(c) or Rule 60(b). A significant portion of Marriott's initial argument in favor of applying Rule 55(c) pertains to the lack of notice it received as to the Fidryches' motion for entry of default, the Clerk's entry of default, and the Fidryches' motion for a default judgment. However, the law is clear that “a defaulting party who has failed to appear, thereby manifesting no intention to defend, is not entitled to notice of the application for a default judgment under either Rule 55(b)(1) or Rule 55(b)(2).” 10A Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 2687 (4th ed. 2013) (collecting cases). Additionally, Rule 55(a) does not require that the Clerk give notice of entry of default, and in any event such entry is publicly noticed on PACER. See Hartford Cas. Ins. Co. v. Jenkins, No. 09-0514-WS-M, 2009 WL 4898319, at *1 n.4 (S.D. Ala. Dec. 14, 2009) (collecting cases). Accordingly, any argument as to notice on those grounds is rejected.

         Marriott also argues that the Court's entry of the default judgment was premature because the time allotted for Marriott to respond to the Fidryches' motion for default judgment had not yet elapsed. As stated above, it is clear that a party who has not appeared in an action is not entitled to notice of the application for a default judgment. The Court concluded that no response to the Fidryches' motion for entry of a default judgment was forthcoming because Marriott had failed to appear in the action after having been properly served, and Marriott had not filed a motion seeking to set aside the Clerk's entry of default in the twenty days before the Fidryches filed their motion for a default judgment. In fact, after granting the Fidryches' motion for a default judgment, the Court gave Marriott notice of the default judgment damages hearing even though no such notice is required. Five days after the Court entered the default judgment and noticed the damages hearing, Marriott's counsel first filed a notice of appearance, and the next day filed a motion to set aside the default and default judgment. That motion, filed on October 17, was still filed before Marriott's October 24 deadline to respond to the Fidryches' motion for default judgment.

         Without affirmatively saying so, and without citation to any authority, the Fidryches seem to claim that Marriott was not entitled to respond to their motion for default judgment because Marriott had failed to appear and was therefore not entitled to notice under Rule 55(b)(2). The Court is unaware of any authority placing such a restriction on a party that has failed to appear, and will take into account the fact that the default judgment was entered before Marriott's time to respond to the Fidryches' motion ...


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