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Cartright v. Lodge

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 30, 2017

JOSEPH CARTRIGHT, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
MATTHEW LODGE, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          HON. KIMBA M. WOOD, United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On December 21, 2015, Plaintiffs Joseph Cartright, Ruth Fowler, and Carolin Dekeyser (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), brought this action against Defendant Matthew Lodge ("Lodge"), alleging various tortious conduct under New York law. (Doc. No. 4, Complaint ("Compl."). On March 1, 2016, the Clerk of the Court entered default against Lodge for his failure to appear in this action. (Doc. No. 15). The case was referred to Magistrate Judge Ellis for an inquest on liability and damages on April 18, 2016. (Doc. No. 18). An inquest hearing was held on July 7, 2016, and Plaintiffs filed a post-hearing brief and supplemental documentary evidence. (Doc. Nos. 27, 29, 32-39). The Court has withdrawn the reference to Magistrate Judge Ellis. For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs' Motion for Default Judgment (Doc. Nos. 16, 17), and orders that judgment be entered for Plaintiffs in the amount of $1, 234, 806.73 for economic losses, emotional distress, punitive damages, and attorneys' fees and costs.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts Alleged in the Complaint

         Plaintiffs allege that Lodge, a professional rugby player in Australia with a "history of violence and animosity towards women, " threatened their persons and property while "clearly intoxicated" on October 16, 2015, at approximately 4:00 a.m. (Compl. at 1, 5, 7). Plaintiff Carolin Dekeyser ("Dekeyser") and her friend were taking a taxi to Guillaume Roemaet's ("Roemaet") apartment, where they were staying while visiting New York. (Id. at 1). Once they arrived outside of the building, Lodge belligerently approached their taxi. (Id. at 1, 4). The taxi driver refused to give Lodge a ride, at which point Lodge turned his attention to Dekeyser and her friend. (Id. at 1). As they attempted to hurry inside of the apartment building, Lodge followed, yelling he wanted to take them to Australia and "violently grabb[ed] [Dekeyser] by the shoulders ... so that she could not escape." (Id. at 1-2, 5).

         Dekeyser and her friend feared for their safety given that Lodge is an "enormous man standing 6'4" and well over 200 pounds." (Id. at 2). They ran into the foyer of Roemaet's apartment building and frantically rang buzzers to gain entry. (Id. at 6). Lodge followed and threatened Dekeyser, stating "Do you think you're going to die? This is the night you're going to die." Id. Plaintiff Joseph Cartright ("Cartright"), a resident of the building for more than twenty years, heard the buzzer and exited his apartment. Id. Cartright recognized Dekeyser, opened the door to the building's main area, and asked if she and her friend were "ok." (Id. at 2, 7).

         At that point, Lodge turned his attention to Cartright as the women ran to Roemaet's apartment for help. (Id. at 2). Cartright pleaded with Lodge to leave. (Id. at 8). Lodge grabbed Cartright and made death threats. (Id. at 8). Roemaet came into the lobby area, and when Lodge saw Roemaet's tattoos, Lodge threatened to kill him. (Id. at 8). Roemaet, Dekeyser, and her friend went back into Roemaet's apartment. Id.

         Next, Lodge went into Cartright's apartment, where he found Cartright's wife, Plaintiff Ruth Fowler ("Fowler"), and their nine-year-old son. (Id. at 2, 8-9). Cartright yelled to Fowler to call the police. (Id. at 9). Lodge repeatedly shouted, "My name is Matthew Lodge. I come in peace. Salaam [sic] Alaikum." Id. He also repeated that his lawyer "will take care of all of this, do not worry." (Id. at 9). He entered the master bedroom, where Fowler was sitting on top of the bed. Id. Lodge attempted to open the closet in the bedroom and then went back into the living room area. Id. Cartright was able to cajole Lodge out of the apartment. Id. Once Lodge exited, Cartright followed, and Fowler closed the door behind them. Id.

         Once outside the apartment, Lodge put Cartright in a headlock, punched him several times in the head, and shoved him. (Id. at 2, 10). Lodge then re-entered Cartright's apartment and blocked the entrance with furniture. (Id. at 10). Fowler grabbed her son, who had been awakened by the noise, and hid in the bathroom near the master bedroom. Id. Fowler heard Lodge in the kitchen breaking plates, glass, and living room furniture. (Id. at 10, 11). Lodge then approached the bathroom in which Fowler and her son were, attempted to gain entry, and punched the door, leaving a hole. (Id. at 10). Fowler instructed her son to hide in the bathtub. Id. Lodge went into the kitchen and living room again and continued to break items. (Id. at 11).

         While this was going on inside the apartment, Cartright ran outside of the building in an attempt to flag down police, some of whom were responding to multiple 911 calls about the incident. Id. The officers entered the building's main area and Lodge hurled a bottle of wine in their direction from inside the apartment. Id. At that point, the officers, with their guns drawn, entered the apartment and found Lodge in the bedroom closet. (Id. at 2, 12). The officers handcuffed Lodge and removed him from the apartment. (Id. at 12).

         B. Procedural Background

         Plaintiffs filed their Complaint on December 21, 2015, alleging battery, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, gender-motivated violence, conversion, and trespass to chattels. (Id. at 12-17). For their intentional infliction of emotion distress claim, Plaintiffs allege that they are entitled to compensatory and punitive damages. (Compl. at 13-14). For their claim under New York City's Gender-Motivated Violence Act ("GMVA"), New York City Administrative Code § 8-901, Plaintiffs allege they are entitled to compensatory and punitive damages, in addition to attorneys' fees and costs. (Id. at 15). Plaintiffs also allege that they are entitled to monetary damages for their conversion and trespass to chattels claims. (Id. at 15-16).

         Plaintiffs' counsel arranged to serve the Complaint in this civil matter through Defendant's defense counsel in a criminal case, Thomas C. Rotko. (Doc. No. 23-3, Ex. C at 2). Service was effectuated on December 21, 2015. (Doc. No. 9, Aff. of Service). Lodge failed to appear, move, answer, or otherwise respond to the Complaint, and Plaintiffs asked the Clerk of Court to enter default against him. (Doc. Nos. 13, 14). The Clerk issued a Certificate of Default on March 1, 2016. (Doc. No. 15). On March 24, Plaintiffs filed their Motion for Default Judgment. (Doc. Nos. 16, 17). The Court referred this case to Magistrate Judge Ellis for an inquest on liability and damages on April 18, 2016. (Doc. No. 18). On April 21, 2016, Plaintiffs were ordered to submit a memorandum on the method of service and damages sought. (Doc. No. 19). The memorandum was received on May 6, 2016. (Doc. Nos. 22, 23). A hearing was held on July 7, 2016. (Doc. No. 27). Plaintiffs filed their post-hearing submissions on August 22, 23, and 26, 2016. (Doc. Nos. 32-35, 37-39). Lodge made no submission.

         C. Plaintiffs' Evidence in Support of Damages

         1. Inquest Hearing Testimony

         Cartright and Fowler testified at the inquest hearing, but Dekeyser did not. They reiterated some of the allegations in the Complaint, adding that on the night of the incident, their son stated "I'm too young to die, " and their impression that Lodge was "suffering from PTSD or something." (Doc. No. 40 ("Hr'g Tr.") at 8, 14, 19). Their testimony largely involved the incident's effect on their son. Within two weeks, the family went to one therapy session. Cartright and Fowler went to a session prior to their son seeing a child therapist. (Id. at 19-20). For approximately three weeks, their son did not sleep in his own bed, had night terrors, and was scared when the doorbell rang. (Id. at 18-19). During this same time period, they worried they would run into Lodge, who was staying at a hotel one and a half blocks away, and avoided media attention by being "hermits." (Id. at 21). Four months later, the family moved to Brooklyn because they "couldn't live in that apartment anymore." (Id. at 24, 31).

         In addition to the emotional impact of the incident, they incurred various economic expenses. These costs include moving expenses, a 15-20% rent increase, rental of a studio space, replacement of furniture and kitchenware, and a $1, 500 retainer for a criminal attorney they hired to protect their interests as crime victims. (Id. at 22, 24-26). Cartright did not quantify any loss of income nor any medical bills, although he did suffer a swollen head, cut on the ear, and aches and pains that "come[] and go[]." (Id. at 20, 27-28). Fowler testified that she did not experience any impact professionally, though she did take anxiety medication after the event. (Id. at 31, 33). Cartright and Fowler testified that they intend to continue therapy. (Id. at 20). Photographs of damage to their personal items were filed with the Court.

         2. Post-Hearing Submission

         Plaintiffs filed a post-hearing memorandum, supplemental documentary evidence, and affidavits. (Doc. Nos. 32-35, 37-39). The affidavits from Plaintiffs Cartright and Fowler restate facts within the Complaint and facts to which they testified at the hearing. (Doc. Nos. 34, 35). Dekeyser's declaration details the emotional impact the incident had on her. (Doc. No. 39). She indicated that she is "haunted by the fear that Lodge might somehow seek [her] out, " "suffers from trouble sleeping, night terrors, nervousness, and anxiety whenever [she] is in the dark, " and has a "disturbing feeling that someone is following [her] all the time." (Id. at 6). Dekeyser stated that she has been prescribed sleeping and anti-anxiety medication and has paid between €200 and €300 out-of-pocket for ten therapy sessions, which she intends to continue. Id.

         Plaintiffs seek a total of $1, 238, 206.73 in damages, and $99, 537.23 in attorneys' fees and costs. (Doc. No. 33 ("Decl. of Renan F. Varghese") at 5).

Plaintiff

Category of Damages

Amount

Cartright/Fowler

Economic Loss

$63,206.70

Cartright

Past Pain and Suffering

$250,000

Future Pain and Suffering

$125,000

Punitive

$150,000

Fowler

Past Pain and Suffering

$150,000

Future Pain and Suffering

$125,000

Punitive

$125,000

Dekeyser

Economic Loss

TBD

Past Pain and Suffering

$100,000

Future Pain and Suffering

$50,000

Punitive

$100,000

Cartright/Fowler/Dekeyser

Attorneys' Fees and Costs

$99,537.23

TOTAL

1,337,743.96

         Economic damages for Cartright and Fowler are broken down as follows (Doc. No. 38 ("PL's Mem. of Law") at 10-11):

Item

Value

Evidence

Security Deposit for New Apartment

$10,500

Exhibit 22

Increase in Rent for New Apartment (12 months)

$7,500[1]

Exhibit 16 at 37:19-21

Real Estate Broker's Fee

$4,200

Exhibit 22

Movers

$200

Exhibit 16 at 37:12-14

Security Deposit for New Apartment (projected)

$10,500

N/A

Increase in Rent for New Apartment (projected)

$7,500

N/A

Real—Estate—Broker's—Fee (projected)

$4,200

N/A

Movers (projected)

$200

N/A [2]

Criminal Attorney

$1,500

Exhibit 25

Sofa

$2,298

Exhibit 2

Sideboard

$1,268

Exhibit 2

Coffee table

$4,000

Ex. 16 38:9-11

Bed for Son

$880.73

N/A

Mental Health Professional (two visits)

$400

Exhibit 1

Dinnerware (approximation)

$300

N/A

Lamp (approximation)

$80

N/A

Long Island City studio ($640/month)

$7,680

N/A

TOTAL

$63,206.73


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