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O'Donnell v. Diaz

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

September 12, 2019

David O'donnell, Plaintiff,
v.
Juan Pablo Zavala Diaz, Avis Budget Car Rental, LLC, Avis Rent A Car System, LLC, and PV Holding Corp., Defendants.

          FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          RENEE HARRIS TOLIVER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This case has been referred to the undersigned United States magistrate judge for pretrial management. Doc. 80. Before the Court is Plaintiff's second Motion for Default Judgment.[1]Doc. 85. For the reasons that follow, the motion should be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In November 2016, Plaintiff sued Defendant Juan Pablo Zavala Diaz (“Diaz”) (and others who have been dismissed as defendants in this suit) in state court for damages he suffered during a car accident in January 2015. Doc. 1-5 at 1-3. The case was removed to this Court in July 2017. Doc. 1 at 1.

         II. APPLICABLE LAW

         The conditions upon which default may be entered against a party, as well as the procedure to seek the entry of default judgment, are found in Rule 55 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The entry of default judgment is the culmination of three events: (1) default, which occurs when a defendant has failed to plead or otherwise respond to the complaint within the time required by Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; (2) entry of default by the clerk of court when such default is established by affidavit or otherwise; and (3) application by plaintiff to the clerk for a default judgment after the entry of default. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a); New York Life Ins. Co. v. Brown, 84 F.3d 137, 141 (5th Cir. 1996).

         Standing alone, however, a defendant's default does not entitle a plaintiff to a default judgment. Lewis v. Lynn, 236 F.3d 766, 767 (5th Cir. 2001) (per curiam); Nishimatsu Constr. Co. v. Hous. Nat'l Bank, 515 F.2d 1200, 1206 (5th Cir. 1975). The decision to grant a default judgment is one soundly within the district court's discretion. Lewis, 236 F.3d at 767. “[D]efault judgments are a drastic remedy, not favored by the Federal Rules and resorted to by courts only in extreme situations.” Id. (quoting Sun Bank of Ocala v. Pelican Homestead & Sav. Ass'n, 874 F.2d 274, 276 (5th Cir. 1989)). Moreover, there must be a sufficient basis in the pleadings for a court to enter judgment by default. Nishimatsu, 515 F.2d at 1206. In defaulting, the defendants are deemed to have admitted the well-pleaded allegations of the plaintiff's complaint and are precluded from contesting the established facts. Id. (citations omitted).

         III. ARGUMENTS AND ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff contends that the facts alleged in the complaint support a negligence claim against Diaz. Doc. 85 at 4. Plaintiff also requests entry of a $2, 000, 000.00 damages award based on Plaintiff's physical and psychological injuries, medical costs, past lost wages, and past pain, suffering, and mental anguish. Doc. 85 at 6-11.

         A. Default Judgment

         Upon review, the well-pled allegations of Plaintiff's complaint establish that Plaintiff was injured due to Diaz's negligence as: (1) Diaz owed Plaintiff a duty of care to operate his vehicle safely; (2) Diaz breached that duty by failing to yield the right of way and smashing into Plaintiff's vehicle; and (3) Diaz's breach proximately caused Plaintiff's injuries. Doc. 85 at 4-5; see Nabors Drilling, U.S.A., Inc. v. Escoto, 288 S.W.3d 401, 404 (Tex. 2009) (holding that negligence actions in Texas require allegations of “a legal duty owed by one person to another, a breach of that duty, and damages proximately caused by the breach”). Accordingly, Plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations support the negligence claim against Diaz.

         B. Damages

         Next, the Court determines the issue of damages. In the context of a default judgment, damages may be determined without a hearing if “the amount claimed is a liquidated sum or one capable of mathematical calculation.” United Artists Corp. v. Freeman, 605 F.2d 854, 857 (5th Cir. 1979) (citations omitted). That is, a hearing is not necessary where the amount of damages can be determined with certainty, by reference to the pleadings and supporting documents, and a hearing would not be beneficial or necessary. James v. Frame, 6 F.3d 307, 310 (5th Cir. 1993). While unliquidated damages are normally not awarded without an evidentiary hearing, Rule 55(b) “does not mandate an evidentiary hearing but, rather, gives the judge wide latitude in determining whether such a hearing will be beneficial.” Id. at 310-11.

         In this case, Plaintiff's liquidated and unliquidated damages are capable of mathematical calculation based on Plaintiff's supporting documents. Thus, the Court concludes that no evidentiary hearing is necessary. Plaintiff has provided affidavits, medical records, and expert opinion, Doc. 85 at 2-3, 10, to support a $65, 924.60 award for past reasonable and necessary medical charges, a $264, 747.39 award for present value of future reasonable and necessary medical charges, a $66, 000.000 award for past lost wages, and a $1, 603, 328.10 award for pain, suffering, and mental anguish-totaling $2, 000, 000 in damages. Doc. 85 at 11. See Leedo Cabinetry v. James Sales & Distribution, Inc.,157 F.3d 410, 414 (5th Cir. 1998) (finding no abuse of discretion in the district court's decision to award unliquidated damages without an evidentiary hearing when plaintiff submitted affidavits and supporting documents; the damage award was therefore capable of mathematical calculation); see also Copeland v. EMC Mortg. LLC, No. 1:16CV159-HSO-JCG, 2017 WL 11318925, at *1 (S.D.Miss. Nov. 17, 2017) (a hearing on unliquidated damages-emotional distress, pain and suffering, mental anguish, and physical pain-is not required when supported by affidavits, expert reports, and other evidence). ...


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