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Doe v. United States

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 30, 2018

Jane Doe, Plaintiff,
v.
United States of America, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Honorable G. Murray Snow, United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment against Defendants James R. Toadvine, Jr. and Vicki Lynn Toadvine. (Doc. 39.) The Court will grant the Motion as to Mr. Toadvine, but deny it as to Mrs. Toadvine.

         I. Background.

         On June 23, 2017, Plaintiff Jane Doe, who is represented by counsel, initiated this matter by filing a Complaint naming United States of America, Edward Mendoza, Vanessa Mendoza, James R. Toadvine, Jr., and Vicki Lynn Toadvine as Defendants. (Doc. 1.) On July 10, 2017, the Court screened the Complaint, ordered Defendants to answer the Complaint, and ordered Plaintiff to either obtain a waiver of service of the summons or complete service of the Summons and Complaint on a Defendant within 90 days of the filing of the Complaint. (Doc. 11.)

         On September 19, 2017, Proofs of Service were filed with the Court as to Defendants James R. Toadvine, Jr. and Vicki Lynn Toadvine (“Defendants”). (Docs. 26, 27.) To date, Defendants have not appeared or challenged Plaintiff's allegations. On October 19, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Request for Entry of Default against Defendants James R. Toadvine and Vicki Lynn Toadvine. (Doc. 34.) Plaintiff's request is on the basis that the record in this case demonstrates there has been a failure by Defendants to plead or otherwise defend as provided by Rule 55(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Id.) On October 20, 2017, the Clerk of Court entered default against Defendants James R. Toadvine and Vicki Lynn Toadvine. (Doc. 36.) On November 7, 2017, Plaintiff filed her first Motion for Default Judgment against the Toadvine Defendants. (Doc. 39.)

         On December 6, 2017, the Court issued an order directing Plaintiff to file supplemental briefing regarding her Motion for Default Judgment “address[ing] the Eitel factors as they pertain to Plaintiff's request for default judgment against Defendant[s].” (Doc. 45.) On December 20, 2017, Plaintiff filed her supplemental brief. (Doc. 55.)

         II. Legal Standard.

         Once a party's default has been entered, the district court has discretion to grant default judgment against that party. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b)(2); Aldabe v. Aldabe, 616 F.2d 1089, 1092 (9th Cir. 1980). “When entry of judgment is sought against a party who has failed to plead or otherwise defend, a district court has an affirmative duty to look into its jurisdiction over both the subject matter and the parties.” In re Tuli, 172 F.3d 707, 712 (9th Cir. 1999). Once jurisdiction is satisfied, the court must determine whether default is judgment is proper under the Eitel factors (detailed below). See Eitel v. McCool, 782 F.2d 1470, 1471-72 (9th Cir. 1986). In applying the Eitel factors, “the factual allegations of the complaint, except those relating to the amount of damages, will be taken as true.” Geddes v. United Fin. Group, 559 F.2d 557, 560 (9th Cir. 1977).

         III. Analysis.

         The Court concludes that it has both subject matter and personal jurisdiction in this action. The Court further concludes that, under the Eitel factors, entry of default judgment is warranted against Mr. Toadvine, but not Mrs. Toadvine. Accordingly, the Court will enter default judgment against the Mr. Toadvine in favor of Plaintiff, and dismiss Mrs. Toadvine from the action.

         A. Jurisdiction.

         The Court is satisfied that it has subject matter jurisdiction over this action. Plaintiff brings this action under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. United States district courts “have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Here, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant James Toadvine committed sexual abuse in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2243(b), by engaging in sexual acts with Plaintiff, who was under the custodial, supervisory, and/or disciplinary authority of Defendant United States. (Doc. 1, ¶ 22.)

         The Court is satisfied that it has personal jurisdiction over Defendants because, “[a]t all times material to this Complaint, [the Toadvine Defendants] were residents of Maricopa County in the State of Arizona and Defendant [James] Toadvine was acting for and on behalf of his marital community with Vicki Lynn Toadvine.” (Doc. 1, ¶ 5.) Defendant James Toadvine is currently an inmate with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. (Id.) Because jurisdiction is proper, and the Clerk of Court has entered Defendants' default (doc. 36), the Court will next consider whether default judgment is proper under the Eitel factors.

         B. The Eitel Factors.

         When deciding whether to grant default judgment, a court should consider the following factors: (1) the possibility of prejudice to the plaintiff; (2) the merits of 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, 782 F.2d at 1471-72. In applying the Eitel factors, “the factual allegations of the complaint, except those relating to damages, will be taken as true.” Geddes, 559 F.2d at 560. As explained below, the Court finds that the factors weigh in favor of finding default judgment against Defendant James R. Toadvine, Jr.

         1. Possible Prejudice to Plaintiff.

         The first Eitel factor considers the possibility of prejudice to Plaintiff if the Court does not enter a default judgment. Eitel, 782 F.2d at 1471. Here, Plaintiff served the Toadvine Defendants on August 11, 2017. (Docs. 26, 27.) The Toadvine Defendants have not appeared or responded to Plaintiff's allegations, and Plaintiff has no alternative means by which to resolve its claims in the Complaint. Therefore, this factor weighs in favor of entering a default judgment because the possibility is high that Plaintiff will be prejudiced if one is not entered.

         2. Merits of Plaintiff's Claims and Sufficiency of the Complaint.

         Considering the relationship between the second and third Eitel factors, the Court considers the merits of Plaintiff's substantive claims and the sufficiency of the Complaint together. See Eitel, 782 F.2d at 1471. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has suggested that, when combined, these factors require a plaintiff to “state a claim on which the plaintiff may recover.” PepsiCo, Inc. v. Cal. Sec. Cans, 238 F.Supp.2d 1172, 1175 (citation omitted).

         Here, Plaintiff's Complaint includes allegations that Defendant James Toadvine committed sexual abuse in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2243(b), by engaging in sexual acts with Plaintiff, who was under the custodial, supervisory, and/or disciplinary authority of Defendant United States. (Doc. 1, ¶ 22.) Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant James Toadvine was criminally charged in connection with his illegal actions, admitted his guilt, and was adjudicated as guilty of sexual abuse. (Id., ¶ 23; see also United States v. Toadvine, 2:15-cr-01535-PHX-DJH, Docket #31 (August 18, 2016).) In her Complaint, Plaintiff sets forth three claims against the Toadvine Defendants: (1) a Bivens action; (2) a negligence claim; and (3) a claim for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Doc. 1.)

         i. Count I - Violation of Plaintiff's Constitutional Rights.

         “A complaint ‘sufficiently sets forth the elements of a Bivens claim by alleging a violation of . . . constitutional rights by agents acting under the color of federal law.'” West v. City of Mesa, 128 F.Supp.3d 1233, 1240 (D. Ariz. 2015) (quoting Morgan v. United States, 323 F.3d 776, 780 (9th Cir. 2003)). To maintain an action under Bivens, a plaintiff must also show that there is no “alternative, existing process for protecting the plaintiff's interests.” W. Radio Servs. Co. v. U.S. Forest Serv., 578 F.3d 1116, 1120 (9th Cir. 2009).

         The Eighth Amendment protects inmates from sexual abuse at the hands of prison guards. The Ninth Circuit has stated:

Where guards themselves are responsible for the rape and sexual abuse of inmates, qualified immunity offers no shield. See Mathie v. Fries, 935 F.Supp. 1284, 1301 (E.D.N.Y. 1996) (denying qualified immunity to director of prison security because “any reasonable prison Director of Security knew that to try to force unwanted and prohibited sexual acts on a powerless inmate is objectively unreasonable and in violation of the inmates rights”); Women Prisoners of the Dist. of Columbia Dept. of Corrections, 877 F.Supp. 634, 665 (D.D.C. 1994) (“Rape, coerced sodomy, unsolicited touching of women prisoners' vaginas, breasts and buttocks by prison employees are ‘simply not part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society'”) (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834, 114 S.Ct. 1970), aff'd in part and vacated in part, 93 F.3d 910 (D.C. Cir. 1996). In the simplest and most ...

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