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Osborne v. Kniceley

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville

May 15, 2017

CARL C. OSBORNE, Surviving Spouse and Next of Kin of Deceased, JANICE K. OSBORNE, Plaintiff,
v.
STEVEN E. KNICELEY and GILBERT WYATT, Defendants, STEVEN E. KNICELEY and TARA KNICELEY, Plaintiffs,
v.
CARL C. OSBORNE, Surviving Spouse and Next of Kin of Deceased, JANICE K. OSBORNE, and GILBERT WYATT, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

         This case is before the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636, the Rules of this Court, and Standing Order 13-02.

         Now before the Court are the following Motions: (1) Plaintiff's Motion to Amend [Doc. 37], (2) Plaintiff's Request for Entry of Default [Doc. 40], (3) Plaintiff's Motion to Strike [Doc. 46], and (4) Defendant Steven Kniceley's Supplemental Objection and Response in Opposition to Request for Entry of Default, Motion to Amend Answer to Amended Complaint or in the Alternative Motion for Enlargement of Time to File Answer to Amended Complaint [Doc. 47] (hereinafter, “Motion to Amend Answer”). The parties appeared before the Court on April 28, 2017, for a motion hearing. Attorneys David C. Hollow, Harry Stephen Gillman, and M. Christopher Coffey appeared on behalf of the Plaintiff. Attorney Hannah Lowe appeared on behalf of Defendants Steven Kniceley and Gilbert Wyatt.[1]

         Accordingly, for the reasons more fully explained below, the Court GRANTS the Plaintiff's Motion to Amend [Doc. 37] and Defendant Knicely's Motion to Amend Answer [Doc. 47] and DENIES the Plaintiff's Request for Entry of Default [Doc. 40] and the Plaintiff's Motion to Strike [Doc. 46].

         I. POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

         The Court will first summarize the parties' positions with respect to the Plaintiff's Motion to Amend and then turn to the matters involving the Plaintiff's Request for Entry of Default.

         A. Motion to Amend

         The Plaintiff moves [Doc. 37] to amend his Complaint to add a claim for punitive damages because Defendant Kniceley was driving at an extreme speed at the time of the incident. The Plaintiff asserts that the deadline to amend pleadings was March 3, 2017, pursuant to the Scheduling Order in this case, but certain electronic module data from the Defendants' vehicle was not provided until March 6, 2017. The Plaintiff attached his proposed Amended Complaint in compliance with Local Rule 15.1.

         Defendants Kniceley and Gilbert Wyatt filed a Response [Doc. 41] objecting to the Motion. The Defendants assert that the Motion was not timely filed pursuant to the Scheduling Order and that the proposed amendment is futile. The Defendants submit that an allegation of driving at an excessive speed does not rise to the level of conduct required under Tennessee law to support a claim for punitive damages.

         The Court notes that during the motion hearing, the Plaintiff orally moved to allege an additional reason to support his claim for punitive damages. The Defendants were given until May 5, 2017, to file a written response to the oral motion. The Defendants did not file a response.

         B. Request for Entry of Default

         The Plaintiff requests an entry of default pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(a). In support of his request, the Plaintiff relies upon the Affidavit of Stephen Gillman, which states that the Complaint was served on defense counsel on December 30, 2015, and that Defendant Kniceley failed to file a responsive pleading.

         Defendant Kniceley filed a Response [Doc. 43] objecting to the Plaintiff's request. The Response states that the failure to plead was due to a clerical error in defense counsel's office and that while an Answer was filed on behalf of co-Defendant Wyatt, the same was not filed on behalf of Defendant Kniceley. Defendant Kniceley submits that Defendant Wyatt's Answer is consistent with his (Defendant Kniceley's) Complaint that was filed in the consolidated action. Further, Defendant Kniceley argues that the Plaintiff has not shown prejudice, he (Defendant Kniceley) has a meritorious defense, and that there was no culpable conduct in this case.

         The Plaintiff filed a Reply [Doc. 45] asserting that Defendant Kniceley failed to file an answer or responsive pleading in over 455 days since service of the Complaint. The Plaintiff states that Rule 55 requires the clerk to enter a default. The Plaintiff argues that the Amended Complaint was filed on July 12, 2016, which is almost seven months following the service of the original Complaint against Defendant Kniceley. The Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Kniceley has not offered an explanation as to the failure to file an answer in the seven months after he was served with the original Complaint and that “it is difficult to fathom that the failure to [a]nswer or otherwise defend this matter in that time period could have been a ‘clerical error.'” [Doc. 45 at 3]. The Plaintiff also contends that Defendant Kniceley has been late in responding to discovery requests and that the default “should be formally noted on the record.” [Id. at 6]. Further, the Plaintiff argues that while Defendant Kniceley references certain factors that the Court should consider, i.e., prejudice, meritorious defense, and culpable conduct, such factors are appropriate when considering motions to set aside the default. Finally, the Plaintiff argues that there has been prejudice, the Defendant has not offered any facts to support a meritorious defense, and that the significant delays in this case establish the culpable conduct.

         The Court notes that on April 14, 2017, Defendant Kniceley filed an Answer [Doc. 42]. Subsequently, the Plaintiff moved to strike [Doc. 46] the Answer on grounds that the Plaintiff had already requested entry of default and that ...


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