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Stillwater Insurance Co. v. Fricker

United States District Court, D. Arizona

June 14, 2018

Stillwater Insurance Company, Plaintiff,
v.
Sean Fricker; and B.B., a minor, by and through Erin E. Bertino, parent and legal guardian of B.B., Defendants.

          ORDER AND DECLARATORY JUDGMENT

          David G. Campbell United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Stillwater Insurance Company has filed a motion for default judgment against Defendant Sean Fricker. Doc. 20. No. response has been filed. For reasons stated below, default judgment is appropriate.

         I. Background.

         Stillwater seeks a declaratory judgment that a homeowner's insurance policy it issued to Fricker provides no coverage for claims and damages sought in an action currently pending in state court, B.B. v. Fricker, No. CV-2017-050691 (Maricopa Cty. Super. Ct Jan. 6, 2017). Doc. 1. The state court action asserts claims for negligence and punitive damages based on allegations that B.B. suffered injuries after Fricker gave him LSD to ingest. Doc. 1-1 at 3-4. Stillwater contends that the policy's intentional act and controlled substances exclusions bar coverage. Doc. 1 at 5-6.

         The complaint was served on Fricker in April 2017. Doc. 6. Fricker has failed to answer or otherwise respond to the complaint. The Clerk entered Fricker's default more than eight months ago. Doc. 16. On April 19, 2018, Stillwater filed the present motion for default judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b). Doc. 20.[1]

         II. Default Judgment.

         The Court's “decision whether to enter a default judgment is a discretionary one.” Aldabe v. Aldabe, 616 F.2d 1089, 1092 (9th Cir. 1980). Although the Court should consider and weigh relevant factors as part of the decision-making process, it “is not required to make detailed findings of fact.” Fair Hous. of Marin v. Combs, 285 F.3d 899, 906 (9th Cir. 2002).

         The following factors may be considered in deciding whether default judgment is appropriate under Rule 55(b): (1) the possibility of prejudice to the plaintiff, (2) the merits of the claims, (3) the sufficiency of the complaint, (4) the amount of money at stake, (5) the possibility of factual disputes, (6) whether default is due to excusable neglect, and (7) the policy favoring decisions on the merits. See Eitel v. McCool, 782 F.2d 1470, 1471-72 (9th Cir. 1986). In considering the merits and sufficiency of the complaint, the court accepts as true the complaint's well-pled factual allegations. See Geddes v. United Fin. Grp., 559 F.2d 557, 560 (9th Cir. 1977). Having reviewed the complaint and default judgment motion, the Court finds that the Eitel factors favor default judgment.

         A. Possible Prejudice to Stillwater.

         The first Eitel factor weighs in favor of default judgment. Fricker failed to respond to the complaint or otherwise appear in this action despite being served with the complaint, the application for default, and the motion for default judgment. If default judgment is not granted, Stillwater “will likely be without other recourse for recovery.” PepsiCo, Inc. v. Cal. Sec. Cans, 238 F.Supp.2d 1172, 1177 (C.D. Cal. 2002). The prejudice to Stillwater in this regard supports the entry of default judgment.

         B. Merits of the Claims and Sufficiency of the Complaint.

         The second and third Eitel factors favor default judgment where, as in this case, the complaint sufficiently states a plausible claim for relief under the Rule 8 pleading standards. See Id. at 1175; Danning v. Lavine, 572 F.2d 1386, 1388-89 (9th Cir. 1978). Stillwater seeks relief under the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201. Doc. 1 at 1. The Act provides that in a case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction, a federal court “may declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration, whether or not further relief is or could be sought.” § 2201(a).

         The merits of Stillwater's request for a declaratory judgment are clear and not reasonably subject to dispute. The underlying state court action alleges that Fricker intentionally provided illicit drugs (LSD) to a minor thereby causing that minor to be injured. Doc. 1-1 at 3-4. Stillwater's insurance policy issued to Fricker expressly excludes coverage for bodily ...


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