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Edwards v. McElliotts Trucking, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division

July 20, 2018

RICHARD EDWARDS, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
McELLIOTTS TRUCKING, LLC; DANNY McGOWAN, individually and as an employee of McElliotts Trucking, LLC and/or as agent of Cardinal Transport; CARDINAL TRANSPORT, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. CHAMBERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On Thursday, July 19, 2018, the Court held a Pretrial Conference in this matter at which it heard argument regarding several pending motions. For reasons specified by the Court at that hearing and as further set forth herein, the pending motions are resolved as follows: Defendant Cardinal Transport, Inc. (“Cardinal”)'s Application for Entry of Default (ECF No. 148) is DENIED; Defendant McElliotts Trucking, LLC and Danny McGowan (together, “the McElliotts Defendants”)'s Motion for Leave to Answer (ECF No. 150) is GRANTED; Plaintiff's Motion to Exclude Reference Regarding Plaintiff's Past Drug Problem (ECF No. 149) is GRANTED; Cardinal's Motion to Exclude Evidence Regarding Compliance with Federal Law (ECF No. 183) is HELD IN ABEYANCE; and Plaintiff's Motion to Reconsider (ECF No. 188) is DENIED.

         I. Cardinal's Application for Entry of Default (ECF No. 148)

         Plaintiff filed the present action against Cardinal and the McElliotts Defendants on February 26, 2016. ECF No. 1. On March 29, 2016, Cardinal filed a timely response and a crossclaim against the McElliotts Defendants. ECF No. 12. At the time Cardinal filed its crossclaim, the McElliotts Defendants were represented by Michael Paesani. Mr. Paesani at no point filed an answer to Cardinal's crossclaim on behalf of the McElliotts Defendants.

         As the case proceeded through the discovery and dispositive motions phases of litigation, Mr. Paesani fell ill and became unable to adequately continue his representation of the McElliotts Defendants. ECF No. 106. As such, the Court ordered Mr. Paesani to find replacement counsel for his clients. ECF No. 120. It was not until August 11, 2017 that the McElliotts Defendants' present counsel, Mr. Charles Bellomy, filed a notice of appearance in this case. ECF No. 125.

         To date, the McElliotts Defendants have not answered Cardinal's crossclaim. As such, Cardinal asks this Court to issue an entry of default against the McElliotts Defendants as to Cardinal's crossclaim. ECF No. 148. The McElliotts Defendants admit that they have not answered Cardinal's crossclaim but ask the Court for leave to file such an answer at this time. ECF No. 150.

         “A party must serve an answer to a . . . crossclaim within 21 days after being served with the pleading that states the . . . crossclaim.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(a)(1)(B). Failure to do so will result in the entry of default against the silent party. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). As a general matter, however, the Fourth Circuit has “repeatedly expressed a strong preference that . . . defaults be avoided and that claims and defenses be disposed of on their merits.” Colleton Preparatory Acad., Inc. v. Hoover Universal, Inc., 616 F.3d 413, 417 (4th Cir. 2010).

         If the Court did grant Cardinal's request and directed the clerk to enter default against the McElliotts Defendants, that entry of default would then be subject to a Rule 55(c) Motion to Set Aside a Default. In considering whether to set aside an entry of default, the Court would look to “whether the [defaulting] party ha[d] a meritorious defense, whether it act[ed] with reasonable promptness, the personal responsibility of the defaulting party, the prejudice to the party, whether there [was] a history of dilatory action, and the availability of sanctions less drastic.” Payne ex rel. Estate of Calzada v. Brake, 439 F.3d 198, 204-205 (4th Cir. 2006).

         In this case, the majority of these factors would weigh heavily in favor of setting aside an entry of default. The Court especially notes that the McElliotts Defendants' failure to answer Cardinal's crossclaim was in fact a failure by their counsel at the time, who suffered health problems severe enough that the McElliotts Defendants were forced to seek new legal representation at a critical stage in this litigation. The defendants were not personally responsible for this failure. Additionally, there is no history of dilatory action on the part of the McElliotts Defendants outside their failure to answer Cardinal's crossclaim, especially not since they obtained healthy and participative legal counsel. Their participation in the case outside of the issue of their answer to Cardinal's crossclaim has been timely and meaningful. For these reasons, the Court would grant a motion to set aside the entry of default if one was entered against the McElliotts Defendants.

         Given these findings, the Court concludes that it would be against the interests of judicial efficiency and economy to now enter an order of default only to later vacate the entry pursuant to Rule 55(c). Therefore, the Court DENIES Cardinal's Application for Entry of Default. In order to offset any prejudice Cardinal may suffer as a result of this ruling, the Court also GRANTS Cardinal leave to file an amended crossclaim if it wishes to do so. If Cardinal believes that an amendment to its crossclaim is appropriate, Cardinal is DIRECTED to file the amended crossclaim no later than July 27, 2018.

         II. McElliotts Defendants' Motion for Leave to Answer (ECF No. 150)

         Though the McElliotts Defendants have not yet answered Cardinal's crossclaim, they have filed a Motion for Leave to Answer. Pursuant to Rule 6(b), the Court may extend the time for a party to answer a crossclaim “for good cause.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(b)(1). The Court reiterates its previous finding that the McElliotts Defendants' delay was due in large part to the health issues of their counsel at the time their answer was due. As such, the Court finds that there is good cause to extend the period in which the McElliotts Defendants may respond to Cardinal's crossclaim. Their motion is therefore GRANTED. The McElliotts Defendants are DIRECTED to file an answer to Cardinal's crossclaim or, if filed by July 27, 2018, to Cardinal's amended crossclaim no later than August 3, 2018.

         III. Plaintiff's Motion to Exclude Reference Regarding Plaintiff's Past Drug Problem (ECF No. 149)

         Also pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Exclude Reference Regarding Plaintiff's Past Drug Problem. As the Court noted during the hearing, there are three categories of evidence Plaintiff wishes to exclude: evidence of Plaintiff's past drug problem (2006 and earlier), evidence of Plaintiff's alleged drug use on the date of the accident, and evidence of Plaintiff's drug use immediately following the accident. Cardinal argued at the hearing that it wishes to introduce all three categories of evidence to show that Plaintiff suffers from an ongoing drug addiction that is relevant to the jury's calculations of Plaintiff's damages as they relate to his vocational prospects. Cardinal argued that it also wishes to use the evidence to implicate defects in Plaintiff's credibility because Plaintiff testified during his deposition that he had not used drugs on the date of the accident. While Cardinal asserted that it does not ...


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