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Estate of Faull v. McAfee

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

May 15, 2017

ESTATE OF GREGORY V. FAULL, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN MCAFEE, Defendant.

          ORDER

          GREGORY A. PRESNELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on the Motion for Leave to File Third Amended Complaint (Doc. 92) filed by the Plaintiff, the Estate of Gregory V. Faull (henceforth, the “Estate”). On March 13, 2017, Magistrate Judge Spaulding filed a Report and Recommendation (Doc. 94), recommending that the Court deny the motion as futile. The Estate objected to that recommendation. (Doc. 95). Upon de novo review, for the reasons set forth below, the Court approves and adopts the Report and Recommendation, which will be made a part of this order. The motion for leave to amend will be denied, and the case will be dismissed without prejudice.

         I. Background

         The Estate filed this suit on November 8, 2013, asserting inter alia that the Defendant, John McAfee, had caused Gregory Faull to be murdered in Belize in November, 2012. (Doc. 1 at 3). One week later, the Estate was ordered to show cause why the matter should not be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Doc. 6). In response, the Estate filed its Amended Complaint (Doc. 12). The Estate had serious difficulty obtaining service of process on McAfee, finally accomplishing it on December 8, 2014. (Doc. 39). A clerk's default was entered against McAfee on January 27, 2014. (Doc. 41).

         Subsequently, the Estate sought to demonstrate its entitlement to a default judgment as to liability against McAfee. (Doc. 50). The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Spaulding, who determined that the allegations of the Amended Complaint were too vague and conclusory to support the entry of such a judgment. (Doc. 51). The Estate then filed a Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 57), asserting a single claim under Florida's Wrongful Death Act, Fla. Stat. §§ 768.16-.26. On May 28, 2016, the Estate obtained service of the Second Amended Complaint upon McAfee. (Doc. 78). The Clerk then entered another default on June 21, 2016. (Doc. 81).

         On July 27, 2016, the Estate filed a motion seeking entry of default judgment against McAfee. (Doc. 82). Magistrate Judge Spaulding issued a Report and Recommendation regarding the motion, recommending that it be denied. (Doc. 83). She determined that the key allegations regarding McAfee's liability were asserted on the basis of “information and belief, ” but that the Estate had not provided factual support for those allegations, and therefore the Second Amended Complaint failed to state a claim against him. (Doc. 83 at 13). On December 13, 2016, the Estate filed its objection to that Report and Recommendation. (Doc. 87). On January 12, 2017, the Court overruled the Estate's objections and adopted the Report and Recommendation. (Doc. 90).

         A month passed with no activity in the case. On February 15, 2017 - more than three years after this matter was originally filed - the Court ordered the Estate to show cause why the matter should not be dismissed for failure to prosecute. (Doc. 91). The Estate responded that it had become aware of additional information regarding McAfee, and that it believed that information would cure the deficiencies in the Second Amended Complaint. (Doc. 92 at 2). To that end, the Estate filed the instant motion, seeking leave to file its third amended complaint. (Doc. 92).

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Report and Recommendations

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1)(a), a district judge may designate a magistrate judge to submit proposed findings of fact and recommendations for the disposition of various pretrial motions, such as motions for summary judgment. Within fourteen days after beings served with a copy of the report and recommendations, any party may serve and file written objections. 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1). A judge of the court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made, and may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations of the magistrate judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         B. Default Judgment

         When a defendant has failed to plead or defend, a district court may enter judgment by default. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2). Because of our legal system's “strong policy of determining cases on their merits, ” however, default judgments are generally disfavored. In re Worldwide Web Sys., Inc., 328 F.3d 1291, 1295 (11th Cir. 2003). A defaulted defendant is deemed to admit the plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations of fact but is not held to admit facts that are not well pleaded or to admit conclusions of law. Cotton v. Mass. Mut. Life Ins. Co., 402 F.3d 1267, 1278 (11th Cir. 2005). Entry of default judgment is only warranted when there is a sufficient basis in the pleadings for the judgment entered. Surtain v. Hamlin Terrace Found., 789 F.3d 1239, 1244- 45 (11th Cir. 2015).

         III. Analysis

         As noted, the primary shortcoming of the Second Amended Complaint was that the key factual allegations as to McAfee's participation in Faull's death were not well-pleaded. (Doc. 83 at 13). The Estate seeks to cure this problem in part by relying on statements from Cassian Chavarria, made in a film documentary about McAfee. According to Chavarria's statements in the documentary, he was ordered by McAfee to transfer $5, 000 of McAfee's money into the bank account of Eddie McKoy, shortly before Faull's murder. Chavarria also said that, a few hours after Faull had been murdered but before his body had been found, McKoy called Chavarria - in the middle of the night - to be picked up from a spot about 600 feet from Faull's house, which was the scene of his murder. After news of the murder became public, Chavarria concluded that McKoy had killed Faull, and that McAfee had paid him the $5, 000 to do so. However, the documentary also includes statements from McKoy denying that he received $5, 000 from McAfee and ...


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