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Wylie v. Brookdale Senior Living, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

November 22, 2019

ANITA WYLIE, Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant
v.
BROOKDALE SENIOR LIVING, INC. and ROBIN RUN RETIREMENT VILLAGE, Defendants. CCRC OPCO ROBIN RUN, LLC Counterclaimant
v.
ANITA WYLIE, Counter-Defendant.

          ENTRY DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO SET ASIDE CLERK'S DEFAULT JUDGMENT

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant Anita Wylie's (“Ms. Wylie”) pro se Motion to Set Aside Default Judgment (Dkt. 31). For the reasons stated below, the motion to set aside default judgment is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         As noted in other entries in this case, the procedural background is uncontested. After a longstanding dispute regarding financial obligations owed on real property that she acquired following her mother's death, Ms. Wylie initiated this action in Marion Superior Court against Defendants/Counterclaimants Brookdale Senior Living, Inc. (“Brookdale”) and CCRC OpCo-Robin Run, LLC's (“Robin Run”) (collectively, the “Defendants”). In her Complaint, Ms. Wylie requested declaratory judgment and actual, compensatory and punitive damages against the Defendants. (Dkt. 1-1.) On January 2, 2019, the Defendants filed an Amended Answer to the Complaint which included a Counterclaim against Ms. Wylie. (Dkt. 9.) The Counterclaim alleged that Ms. Wylie breached the Indenture of Restrictions contract that required the owner of 5408 Unity Lane, Indianapolis, Indiana, to pay a monthly service fee. Id. at 15.

         An initial pretrial conference was held on February 5, 2019, and the parties appeared in person. (Dkt. 10.) During the initial pretrial conference, a scheduling order was discussed and agreed upon. The agreed upon Scheduling Order was filed on February 5, 2019. (Dkt. 11.) On March 29, 2019, in an attempt to file an Answer to the counterclaim, Ms. Wyle filed a document titled Response to Counterclaim in which she hand wrote:

Being unable to use my printer-it's broken-I “Respond to Defendant's [sic] Counterclaim” I am willing to pay them (Brookdale) $10.00/wk for “services for Pauline Wylie” in that they do mow my postage stamp sized lawn once a week when needed & clean sidewalks and garages of snow, so [sic] say $10.00/wk 10 months lawn care 300 days, 2 months snow removal 65 days $3, 650.

(Dkt. 20.) On April 18, 2019, the Court informed Ms. Wylie that her pro se proposed “Response to Counterclaim” did not comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and allowed Ms. Wylie thirty (30) days from the date of the Entry, or until May 18, 2019, to file a responsive pleading. (Dkt. 21.) To date, Ms. Wylie has failed to answer or otherwise file a responsive pleading to the Counterclaim.

         On May 21, 2019, the Defendants filed a Motion for Clerk's Entry of Default against Ms. Wylie in the amount of $56, 626.95 (Dkt. 22). That Motion was granted in part and denied in part. A Clerk's default was entered on the Defendants' Counterclaim; however, the Court determined that Defendants were not entitled to a default judgment for a sum certain. (Dkt. 25.) The Clerk's Entry of default on the Counterclaim was entered on June 19, 2019. (Dkt. 26.) On July 5, 2019, sixteen days later, Ms. Wylie filed a Motion to Set Aside Default Judgment (Dkt. 31).

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         “The court may set aside an entry of default for good cause, and it may set aside a default judgment under Rule 60(b).” Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(c). Because the Court did not enter a final default judgment, the Rule 55(c) “good cause” standard applies. This Court has broad discretion to set aside a default entry for good cause. Cracco v. Vitran Exp., Inc., 559 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2009). “A party seeking to vacate an entry of default prior to the entry of final judgment must show: (1) good cause for the default; (2) quick action to correct it; and (3) a meritorious defense to the complaint.” Id. “While the same test applies for motions seeking relief from default judgment under both Rule 55(c) and Rule 60(b), the test is more liberally applied in the Rule 55(c) context.” Id. at 631 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         In support of her Motion to Set Aside the Clerk's entry of default, Ms. Wylie explains that she broke two (2) ribs on April 12, 2019, was bedridden for six weeks, she forgot about the May 21, 2019 status conference, and she was unable to appear for the June 28, 2019 show cause hearing due to the high dew point which threatened her breathing. See Dkt. 31. Although Ms. Wylie does not explicitly address her failure to file an Answer to the Defendants' Counterclaim, the due date of May 18, 2019 falls during the time period when she was bedridden. She stated that she had “a doctor's appointment on July 10th at which time she can get a medical statement regarding her health, ” (Dkt. 31 at 1). However, no doctor's statement has ever been submitted to the Court.

         The Seventh Circuit has elaborated on what constitutes “good cause, ” casting it as a process of weighing the equities to each side. U.S. v. Di Mucci, 879 F.2d 1488 (7th Cir.1989). Good cause is not equivalent to having a good excuse or showing excusable neglect. Sims v. EGA Prods., Inc., 475 F.3d 865 (7th Cir.2007). Instead, a court must consider the defaulting party's actions (i.e., did they quickly act to correct the problem, do they have meritorious defenses) and the prejudice to each side. Di Mucci, 879 F.2d at 1495.

         Regarding good cause, the Defendants argue and the Court agrees that Ms. Wiley's explanations of why she missed the May 21, 2019 status conference and the June 28, 2019 show cause hearing, are wholly unrelated to the entry of default judgment and do not satisfy the good cause prong. To the extent that Ms. Wylie was unaware that failure to file a responsive pleading that complied with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure could result in a default judgment, that argument fails. The Court concludes that “not knowing the consequence” for failing to participate in required proceedings and file a responsive pleading does not constitute good cause to ignore required procedures or to not suffer the consequences for choosing not to participate. Despite her unfortunate medical circumstances and broken printer, Ms. Wylie could have handwritten and mailed a timely answer to the counterclaim. Pro se litigants are not automatically entitled to more lenient treatment in determining whether good cause exists for lifting of entry of ...


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