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Christ Center of Divine Philosophy Inc. v. Elam

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

February 10, 2017

CHRIST CENTER OF DIVINE PHILOSOPHY, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
ELLEN VERONICA ELAM, Defendant.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY D. DEGIUSTI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Christ Center of Divine Philosophy, Inc.'s Motion for Default Judgment [Doc. No. 10]. On October 7, 2016, default was entered against Defendant Ellen Veronica Elam, and Defendant has not responded to the motion. For the reasons stated below, the Court finds Plaintiff's motion should be granted.

         BACKGROUND

         On January 28, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present action alleging it held, by assignment, valid copyrights in thirty-one separate publications created by Audle Allison, and Defendant willfully infringed such work by publishing and selling three books containing copyrighted material found in four of the works [Doc. No. 1]. Defendant was personally served with the Summons and Complaint on August 25, 2016 [Doc. No. 6].[1] To date, Defendant has neither answered nor otherwise responded to the Complaint. On October 7, 2016, the Court Clerk entered default against Defendant for failing to plead or otherwise defend the present action [Doc. No. 9]. Pursuant to Rule 55(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Plaintiff, accordingly, moves for an entry of default judgment consisting of statutory damages totaling $120, 000 and an injunction prohibiting Defendant from infringing upon Plaintiff's copyrighted works.

         STANDARD OF DECISION

         The entry of default judgment is committed to the sound discretion of the Court. Tripodi v. Welch, 810 F.3d 761, 764 (10th Cir. 2016). The Court may consider a variety of factors in the exercise of such discretion, including:

(1) the degree of actual prejudice to the defendant; (2) the amount of interference with the judicial process; (3) the culpability of the litigant; (4) whether the court warned the party in advance that dismissal of the action would be a likely sanction for noncompliance; and (5) the efficacy of lesser sanctions.

Ehrenhaus v. Reynolds, 965 F.2d 916, 921 (10th Cir. 1992) (internal citations omitted).[2] Default judgments are generally disfavored in light of the policy that cases should be tried upon their merits whenever reasonably possible. In re Rains, 946 F.2d 731, 732 (10th Cir. 1991). Nonetheless, default judgment is viewed as a reasonable remedy when the adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party. Id.

         DISCUSSION

         When a defendant fails to answer or otherwise defend against an action, Rule 55 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides two distinct sequential steps: the entry of default and the entry of default judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(a), (b); Guttman v. Silverberg, 167 F. App'x 1, 2 n. 1 (10th Cir. 2005) (unpublished) (“The entry of default and the entry of a judgment by default are two separate procedures.”). Initially, a party must ask the Clerk of the Court to enter default. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). Only when the Clerk has complied may a party seek default judgment. Garrett v. Seymour, 217 F. App'x 835, 838 (10th Cir. 2007) (unpublished) (holding that entry of default is a prerequisite for the entry of a default judgment under Rule 55(b)(1)). The procedural requirements for grant of default judgment by the Court is that the application be accompanied by an affidavit in compliance with LCvR 55.1, which states “[n]o application for a default judgment shall be entertained absent an affidavit in compliance with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, [50 U.S.C. § 3931].” To this end, it is undisputed Defendant has failed to answer or plead, default was entered by the Clerk, and Plaintiff has satisfied the Court's procedural requirements. See Mot. for Default Judgment at Ex. 1 [Doc. No. 8-1].

         Upon an entry of default, the Court takes all of the well-pleaded facts in a complaint as true. See Tripodi v. Welch, 810 F.3d 761, 765 (10th Cir. 2016) (noting that after default is entered, “a defendant admits to a complaint's well-pleaded facts and forfeits his or her ability to contest those facts.”) (citation omitted); United States v. Craighead, 176 F. App'x 922, 924 (10th Cir. 2006) (“The defendant, by his default, admits the plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations of fact, is concluded on those facts by the judgment, and is barred from contesting on appeal the facts thus established.”) (unpublished, citation omitted). However, the Court need not accept the moving party's legal conclusions or factual allegations relating to the amount of damages sought. Therefore, before granting a default judgment, the Court must first ascertain whether the uncontested facts constitute a legitimate cause of action, since a party in default does not admit mere conclusions of law. See, e.g., Mathiason v. Aquinas Home Health Care, Inc., 187 F.Supp.3d 1269, 1274-75 (D. Kan. 2016) (“Even after default, it remains for the court to consider whether the unchallenged facts constitute a legitimate basis for the entry of a judgment since a party in default does not admit conclusions of law. Furthermore, a default judgment does not establish the amount of damages. Plaintiff must establish that the amount requested is reasonable under the circumstances.”) (internal citations omitted); Gunawan v. Sake Sushi Restaurant, 897 F.Supp.2d 76, 83 (E.D.N.Y. 2012) (“[A] default does not establish conclusory allegations, nor does it excuse any defects in the plaintiff's pleading. Thus, with respect to liability, a defendant's default does no more than concede the complaint's factual allegations; it remains the plaintiff's burden to demonstrate that those uncontroverted allegations, without more, establish the defendant's liability on each asserted cause of action.”) (citations omitted).

         “If [a] defendant does not contest the amount prayed for in the complaint [by failing to answer] and the claim is for a sum certain or a sum that can be made certain by computation, the judgment generally will be entered for that amount without any further hearing.” Craighead, 176 F. App'x at 925 (citation omitted); H.B. Hunt v. Inter-Globe Energy, Inc., 770 F.2d 145, 148 (10th Cir. 1985) (“[A] court may enter a default judgment without a hearing only if the amount claimed is a liquidated sum or one capable of mathematical calculation.”) (citing Venable v. Haislip, 721 F.2d 297, 300 (10th Cir. 1983)).

         I

         Accepting the well-pled allegations in the Complaint as true and for the reasons stated below, the Court finds that the allegations support entry of a default judgment. In order to establish a prima facie case of copyright infringement, a plaintiff must prove two elements: (1) ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) copying of constituent elements of the work that are original. Savant Homes, Inc. v. Collins, 809 F.3d 1133, 1138 (10th Cir. 2016). The plaintiff bears the burden of proof as to both elements. La Resolana Architects, PA v. Reno, Inc., 555 F.3d 1171, 1171 (10th Cir. 2009). With respect to the first element, “[a] plaintiff's presentation of a certificate of registration from the U.S. Copyright Office usually constitutes prima facie ...


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