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Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Co. v. Gomez

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

September 24, 2013

Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company, Plaintiff,
v.
Norma A. Gomez, individually and as a next of friend of M.G. (a minor) and C.G. (a minor); Lizeth Gomez, Defendants.

ORDER

BRIDGET S. BADE, Magistrate Judge.

In this interpleader action, Plaintiff Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company (Plaintiff) requests the entry of default judgment against Defendant Lizeth Gomez pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b). (Doc. 15.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Plaintiff's request for default judgment without prejudice.

I. Background

On June 6, 2013, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in interpleader pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1335 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 22, requesting that this Court determine the rightful beneficiary or beneficiaries of an insurance policy. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff named as Defendants Norma Gomez, Lizeth Gomez, and minors M.G. and C.G. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff asserts that it issued a group accidental death and dismemberment policy to decedent Saul Gomez's employer and that a $20, 000 benefit is due and payable under this policy because of Mr. Gomez's death. ( Id. at ¶¶ 8-9, and 13.) Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants, who are Mr. Gomez's surviving spouse and children, may have adverse claims to the policy benefits because they assert that Defendant Norma Gomez is a suspect in the death of her husband, which the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office ruled a homicide. ( Id. at ¶¶ 12, 15-18.)

The Complaint requests that the Court enter an order permitting Plaintiff to deposit the disputed policy benefit with the Clerk of Court, dismissing Plaintiff from the action with prejudice upon deposit of the policy benefit, discharging it from all liability as to the policy benefit, enjoining Defendants from commencing or prosecuting any other action regarding the policy benefit on the life of Mr. Gomez in any other federal or state court, and awarding Plaintiff its attorney's fees and costs incurred in this action. (Doc. 1 at 4-5.) Plaintiff further requests that the Court direct Defendants to interplead together concerning their adverse conflicting claims to the policy benefit.[1] ( Id. at 4.)

On June 10, 2013, Plaintiff served the Complaint on Defendants Norma Gomez and Lizeth Gomez by United States mail. (Docs. 6 and 7.) Defendant Norma Gomez executed a waiver of service on July 8, 2013 (Doc. 6), and filed her Answer on July 30, 2013. (Doc. 8.) Defendant Lizeth Gomez executed a waiver of service, which Plaintiff received and filed on July 23, 2013. (Doc. 7.) Defendant Lizeth Gomez's Answer was due on August 9, 2013. (Doc. 12.) However, Defendant Lizeth Gomez failed to appear or otherwise respond to the Complaint and the Clerk of Court entered default against her on August 26, 2013. (Doc. 13) Plaintiff now moves for the entry of default judgment against Defendant Lizeth Gomez. (Doc. 15.)

II. Discussion

After a default has been entered and the defendant fails to appear or move to set aside the default, the court may, on the plaintiff's motion, enter a default judgment. Fed. R Civ. P. 55(b)(2). Here, the Clerk of Court has entered Lizeth Gomez's default. Thus, the Court may consider Plaintiff's request for default judgment against her.

As an initial matter, the Court notes that Plaintiff's motion for default judgment and its proposed form of judgment request the entry of "an order entering default judgment against defendant Lizeth Gomez, " but do not specify any terms for the requested judgment. (Doc. 15, Ex. 1.) The Complaint seeks, among other relief, an order enjoining "the defendants from bringing any claim or action against [Plaintiff] relating to [the policy] benefit." (Doc. 1 at 2.) Thus, Plaintiff may seek a judgment enjoining Defendant Lizeth Gomez from initiating or prosecuting claims to the policy benefit in any other court. The Court, however, declines to speculate and cannot properly evaluate whether to enter default judgment without more information regarding the precise form of judgment Plaintiff seeks. Based on Plaintiff's lack of specificity, the Court denies the motion for default judgment without prejudice.

Additionally, as discussed below, Plaintiff's motion does not address the Court's subject matter jurisdiction over this case, personal jurisdiction over Lizeth Gomez, or the factors relevant to the entry of default judgment. See Eitel v. McCool, 782 F.2d 1470, 1471-72 (9th Cir. 1986).

A. Standards for Entry of Default Judgment

Upon a party's default, the well pleaded factual allegations of the complaint, except those concerning damages, are taken as true. TeleVideo Sys., Inc. v. Heidenthal, 826 F.2d 915, 917-18 (9th Cir. 1987); see also Geddes v. United Fin. Grp., 559 F.2d 557, 560 (9th Cir.1977) (holding that at the default judgment stage, the factual allegations of the complaint, except those concerning damages, are deemed admitted by the non-responding parties). Facts not contained in the pleadings and claims that are legally insufficient are not established by default. Danning v. Lavine, 572 F.2d 1386, 1388 (9th Cir.1978).

A defendant's default does not automatically entitle a plaintiff to a default judgment. Rather, whether to award a default judgment is within the court's discretion. Aldabe v. Aldabe, 616 F.2d 1089, 1092 (9th Cir. 1980) (considering lack of merit in plaintiff's substantive claims, the court did not abuse its discretion in declining to enter a default judgment). When deciding whether to grant default judgment, the court considers the following " Eitel " factors: (1) the possibility of prejudice to the plaintiff; (2) the merits of the plaintiff's substantive claim; (3) the sufficiency of the complaint; (4) the sum of money at stake in the action; (5) the possibility of a dispute concerning material facts; (6) whether the default was due to excusable neglect; and (7) the strong policy underlying the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure favoring decisions on the merits. Eitel v. McCool, 782 F.2d 1470, 1471-72 (9th Cir. 1986).

Additionally, before granting default judgment, the court must determine whether it has jurisdiction over the subject matter and the parties of the case. See In re Tuli, 172 F.3d 707, 712 (9th Cir. 1999) (stating that "[w]hen entry of judgment is sought against a party who has failed to plead or otherwise defend, a district court has an ...


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