The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge United States District Court
Presently before this Court is Defendant's Motion to Set Aside Default.*fn1 (Docket No. 5.) For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion is granted.
Plaintiff Nina M. Hardy commenced this action by filing a Complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York on December 16, 2010. (Docket No. 1.) Plaintiff alleges that police officers employed by Defendant Erie County Sheriff's Department unlawfully detained and interrogated her in violation of her Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Id. at ¶¶ 1, 2, 28.)
On January 26, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Request for Entry of Default (Docket No. 3), and on February 1, 2011, default was entered against Defendant for failure to appear or otherwise defend in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55. (Docket No. 6.)
On January 28, 2011, David J. Sleight, Assistant County Attorney and Acting Erie County Attorney, filed a Motion to Set Aside Default. (Docket No. 5.)
Under Rule 55(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "[t]he court may set aside an entry of default for good cause[.]" Fed.R.Civ.P.55(c). The criteria for evaluating whether there is "good cause" are identical to those used to evaluate a Rule 60(b) motion to set aside default judgment, though the standard is less rigorous in the context of default. Enron Oil Corp. v. Diakuhara, 10 F.3d 90, 96 (2d Cir. 1993). In evaluating a motion to set aside an entry of default under Rule 55(c), the court should consider the willfulness of default, whether defendant has a meritorious defense, and any prejudice that may occur to the non-defaulting party if relief is granted. See Pecarsky v. Galaxiworld.com, Ltd., 249 F.3d 167, 171 (2d Cir. 2001); Am. Alliance Ins. Co. v. Eagle Ins. Co., 92 F.3d 57, 59 (2d Cir. 1996); Davis v. Musler, 713 F.2d 907, 915 (2d Cir. 1983). This analysis is left to the discretion of the Court, with a preference for adjudication on the merits where there is any doubt. See Enron Oil Corp., 10 F.3d at 95--96; Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 94 (2d Cir. 1983).
In this case, Defendant concedes that its carelessness or, at most, its negligence is the cause of its failure to timely file an Answer or otherwise respond to Plaintiff's Complaint, and Plaintiff does not offer any evidence suggesting otherwise. (Sleight Declaration, Docket No. 5, ¶ 13.) Mere neglect, however, does not rise to the level of willfulness in the context of a Rule 60(b) motion, and thus is not willfulness for the purposes of the less rigorous Rule 55(c) standard. See Tesillo v. Emergency Physician Assoc., Inc., 230 F.R.D. 287, 289 (W.D.N.Y. 2005) (citing Am. Alliance Ins. Co., 92 F.3d at 61). Willfulness involves bad faith, deliberateness, or "at least something more than mere negligence" or carelessness. Am. Alliance Ins. Co., 92 F.3d at 60--61.
Here, Sleight acknowledges that the Erie County Department of Law received Plaintiff's Summons and Complaint on or about December 23, 2010, but asserts that he was not assigned this case until January 21, 2011, due to a contemporaneous change in the process of assigning new matters for handling. (Sleight Declaration, ¶¶ 5, 6.) As a result, Sleight was unaware that the answering time for Defendant had begun to toll, and consequently, Defendant failed to timely file its Answer or otherwise respond. (Sleight Declaration, ¶ 6.) Sleight avers that he left a telephone message for Plaintiff's counsel on January 25, 2011, explaining the circumstances and requesting an extension of time for Defendant to answer or otherwise move, however, Plaintiff filed her Request for Entry of Default the next day. (Sleight Declaration, ...