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United States District Court, S.D. New York

February 4, 2005.

JOHN HALO, PRO SE Plaintiff,
CITY OF NEW YORK, et al., Defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: THEODORE KATZ, Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff, John Halo, proceeding pro se, brings this action against the New York City Police Department, various police officers, and other individuals, claiming, inter alia, that he was falsely arrested and denied medical care while he was incarcerated. The action was referred to this Court for general pretrial supervision.

By Order dated December 8, 2004, the Court (Lynch, J.) granted various Defendants who were served with process an extension until January 21, 2005, to respond to the Complaint. An Answer was not filed on that date. Accordingly, the Clerk has entered the Defendants' default and Plaintiff has moved for the entry of a default judgment. Defendants oppose the motion, arguing that the failure to file their Answer was inadvertent, that they have meritorious defenses, and that there will be no prejudice to Plaintiff if their Answer is filed as soon as the Court grants leave to do so. (See Letter from Leah A. Bynon, Esq., dated Feb. 1, 2005 ("Bynon Ltr.") at 1-2). For the following reasons, Page 2 Defendants' application to file their Answer subsequent to the required filing date is granted, and Plaintiff's motion for a default judgment is denied.

  The Second Circuit has held that "`strong public policy favors resolving disputes on [their] merits' and that, `although courts have an interest in expediting litigation, abuses of process may be prevented by enforcing those defaults that arise from egregious or deliberate conduct.'" Pecarsky v., Ltd., 249 F.3d 167, 172 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting Am. Alliance Ins. Co. v. Eagle Ins. Co., 92 F.3d 57, 61 (2d Cir. 1996)); see also id. at 174 ("It is well established that default judgments are disfavored. A clear preference exists for cases to be adjudicated on the merits."); Enron Oil Corp. v. Diakuhara, 10 F.3d 90, 96 (2d Cir. 1993) ("[B]ecause defaults are generally disfavored and are reserved for rare occasions, when doubt exists as to whether a default should be granted or vacated, the doubt should be resolved in favor of the defaulting party.").

  As provided in Rule 55(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "[f]or good cause shown the court may set aside an entry of default." The factors to be considered in determining whether "good cause" has been shown to relieve a party of its default are: "whether the default was willful; (2) whether setting aside the default would]prejudice the adversary; and (3) whether a meritorious defense is presented." Enron, 10 F.3d at 96; accord Page 3 Action S.A. v. Marc Rich & Co., 951 F.2d 504, 507 (2d Cir. 1991); Meehan v. Snow, 652 F.2d 274, 277 (2d Cir. 1981). "Other relevant equitable factors may also be considered, for instance, whether the failure to follow a rule of procedure was a mistake made in good faith and whether the entry of default would bring about a harsh and unfair result." Enron, 10 F.3d at 96.

  Willfulness requires a showing of bad faith or deliberate default on the part of the defaulting party, and does not "include careless or negligent errors." Am. Alliance, 92 F.3d at 61. There is no evidence of willfulness in this case. Defendants' counsel has explained that she inadvertently failed to file the Answer while under the pressure of a trial date in another action. Accordingly, this factor weighs in Defendants' favor.

  In order to establish a meritorious defense, "[t]he test . . . is measured not by whether there is a likelihood that [the defendant] will carry the day, but whether the evidence submitted, if proven at trial, would constitute a complete defense." Pecarsky, 249 F.3d at 173 (quoting Enron, 10 F.3d at 98); see also Am. Alliance, 92 F.3d at 61 ("[T]he defense need not be ultimately persuasive at this stage. A defense is meritorious if it is good at law so as to give the factfinder some determination to make.") (internal quotation marks omitted). Defendants contend that they have meritorious defenses to Plaintiff's claims, foremost that a complaining witness filed criminal complaints against Plaintiff, Page 4 providing probable cause for his arrest and prosecution.

  Finally, Plaintiff has not identified any prejudice as a result of Defendants' ten-day delay in filing their Answer, and the Court can perceive none. Pretrial discovery has not yet commenced and the initial pretrial conference with the Court is scheduled for February 17, 2005. Moreover, according to Defendants' counsel, Plaintiff is aware that Defendants' are represented and intend to defend against his claims, because she and Plaintiff have had multiple conversations and have discussed the upcoming conference. (See Bynon Ltr. at 2.)


  Because Defendants' default was not willful, meritorious defenses have been asserted, and no prejudice has resulted, the Court concludes that Defendants have shown good cause to vacate their default. It follows that Plaintiff's motion for a default judgment is denied. The moving Defendants shall file their Answer forthwith.

  SO ORDERED. Page 1


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