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Parisi v. United States

June 26, 2009

MELODY A. PARISI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT.



MEMORANDUM- DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Melody A. Parisi ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2671 et seq., seeking recovery of unpaid medical expenses while allegedly in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP"). See Compl. (Dkt. No. 1). Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for default judgment. Dkt. No. 11. Also before the Court is a Motion to vacate the default and to dismiss, for judgment on the pleadings, or for summary judgment, brought by Defendant the United States of America ("the United States" or "Defendant"). Dkt. No. 12. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion to vacate the default is granted, and Plaintiff's Motion for default judgment is denied. Defendant's Motion for summary judgment is also granted and Plaintiff's Complaint is therefore dismissed.

I. BACKGROUND

On January 8, 2004, Plaintiff was convicted and sentenced in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York to a fifteen month term of imprisonment with a three year term of supervised release.*fn1 See Compl. ¶ 7; Def.'s Mem. at 1 (Dkt. No. 12, Attach. 3). On or about December 29, 2004, while Plaintiff was serving her fifteen month sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, the BOP transferred Plaintiff to the Horizon House, Community Corrections Center ("CCC")*fn2 in Albany, New York, to serve the remainder of her sentence. Compl. ¶ 9. On March 29, 2005, Plaintiff was released due to good conduct. Compl. ¶ 12; Dkt. No. 13, Ex. 1a. On June 8, 2005, the Court modified the conditions of Plaintiff's supervised release and ordered that she be placed at the CCC for ninety days. Compl. ¶ 13 and Ex. 2. Plaintiff was released from the CCC on September 7, 2005. Dkt. 13, Ex. 1a.

On June 29, 2007, Plaintiff filed an administrative tort claim with the BOP. Compl. ¶ 19 and Ex. 5. Plaintiff sought "[a]ll of the medical and other expenses [] incurred while in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons . . . ." Compl. Ex. 5. The BOP rejected her claim on July 23, 2007. Id. ¶ 20 and Ex. 6. On September 17, 2007 and November 30, 2007, Plaintiff sent additional letters to the director of the CCC, further outlining her claims. Compl. ¶¶ 21-22 and Ex. 7-8. On January 31, 2008, Plaintiff filed three independent tort claims with the BOP. Compl. ¶ 23 and Ex. 9-11. The BOP sent Plaintiff a letter on February 12, 2008, again rejecting her claims. Compl. ¶ 24 and Ex. 12. On March 7, 2008, Plaintiff sent a letter to the BOP requesting reconsideration of her claims. Compl. ¶ 25 and Ex. 13. The BOP denied her motion for reconsideration on April 3, 2008. Compl. ¶ 26 and Ex. 14.

Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint on June 10, 2008, seeking $65,288.27 for her total unpaid medical expenses; $505.53 for expenses incurred on January 16, 2005, $736.64 for expenses incurred on July 12, 2005, and $64,046.10 for expenses incurred between July 17 and August 8, 2005. Compl. ¶¶ 11, 16-17, 39. However, Defendant asserts that on February 7, 2006, Plaintiff received a discount of her outstanding medical bills through the Albany Medical Center Hospital Charity Care Program ("Charity Care Program"). Def.'s Mem. at 13; Dkt. 13, Ex. 1b.*fn3 Defendant later asserted in its reply that Plaintiff's medical bills total $6,809.96. Reply at 2 (Dkt. No. 17). In Plaintiff's response to Defendant's Motion, she asserts that her medical expenses were ultimately reduced to $6,809.96. Pl.'s Mem. at 12 (Dkt. No. 15).

II. PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT/ DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO VACATE THE DEFAULT

A. Standard for Vacating Entry of Default

The Federal Rules provide that "when a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend, and that failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise, the clerk must enter the party's default." FED. R. CIV. P. 55(a). After the Clerk has entered default against a defendant, the plaintiff may apply for a default judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b). However, it is well-settled in the Second Circuit that defaults are not favored, and that there is a strong preference for resolving disputes on the merits. See Pecarksy v. Galaxiworld.com Ltd., 249 F.3d 167, 174 (2d Cir. 2001).

"The court may set aside an entry of default for good cause[.]" FED. R. CIV. P. 55(c). Courts must assess three criteria in determining whether to set aside a default: "(1) whether the default was willful; (2) whether setting aside the default would prejudice the adversary; and (3) whether a meritorious defense is presented." Enron Oil Corp. v. Diakuhara, 10 F.3d 90, 96 (2d Cir. 1993). Courts may also consider other equitable factors, including "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 or unfair result." Id. "[W]hen doubt exists as to whether a default should be granted or vacated, the doubt should be resolved in favor of the defaulting party. In other words, 'good cause' . . . should be construed generously." Id.

B. Discussion

Plaintiff filed a request for entry of default on September 12, 2008. Dkt. No. 9. The Clerk entered default on that date. Dkt. No. 10. The United States contends that the entry of default against it was improper, as Plaintiff failed to comply with the service requirements of Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The Federal Rules provide that a party suing the United States must serve the summons and complaint upon both the United States Attorney General and the United States Attorney for the district where the case was brought. FED. R. CIV. P. 4(i)(1)(A), (B). The Federal Rules further provide that "if the action challenges an order of a nonparty agency or officer of the United States," the party must serve the summons and complaint upon that agency or officer. FED. R. CIV. P. 4(i)(1)(C).

Here, Plaintiff's Complaint challenges an order of a nonparty agency-- the BOP. The Complaint states that "[t]he United States, through its agency (Bureau of Prisons), wrongfully and negligently breached" duties owed to the Plaintiff. Compl. ¶ 6. However, the summons and complaint were served upon the United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York and the Attorney General, but not upon the BOP.

Given Plaintiff's failure to fully comply with the service requirement of Rule 4, the Clerk's entry of default was in error. In the alternative, the Court concludes that the Defendant has met the good cause standard required to vacate the entry of default. The Court fails to see how the Defendant's reliance upon the service requirements of the Federal Rules can be regarded as a willful failure to appear that would preclude vacating the default. Even if the Defendant's reading of Rule 4 had been in ...


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