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Scotlynn USA Division, Inc. v. Z Top Logistics, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

June 12, 2017


          OPINION AND ORDER [1]


         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Scotlynn USA Division, Inc.'s (Scotlynn) Motion for Default Judgment (Doc. 25) filed on May 22, 2017. Defendant Z Top Logistics, Inc. (Z Top) has not filed a response and the time to do so has expired. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted in part.[2]


         Scotlynn is a freight brokerage company that contracts with motor carriers to transport goods throughout the United States. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 5). Z Top is one such entity with whom Scotlynn contracts. Id. at ¶ 6. On November 12, 2014, Scotlynn and Z Top entered into a Property Broker/Carrier Agreement (the “Agreement”), the terms of which were intended to govern the transport of various loads of cargo for Scotlynn by Z Top. Id. at ¶ 7.

         Scotlynn then arranged for Z Top to transport 41, 580 pounds of frozen chicken (the “Cargo”) from Missouri to Virginia. Id. at ¶ 9. On October 14, 2015, Z Top picked up the Cargo, and acknowledged its good condition. Id. at ¶ 10. During transit, Z Top was in a rollover accident and the poultry was exposed to outside temperatures for over 14 hours, and rendered unfit for human consumption. Id. at ¶ 12. Because of the Cargo's temperature, it was rejected. Id. As a result, Scotlynn's customer pursued a claim against it for the entirety of the loss, which is $39, 354.62. Id. at ¶ 13. On December 11, 2015, Scotlynn formally notified Z Top of the claim, which Z Top refused to pay. Id. at ¶ 14.

         Scotlynn then filed this suit.[3] (Doc. 1). Despite service, Z Top has made an appearance in this case; therefore, a Clerk's Default (Doc. 17) was entered on April 11, 2017. (Doc. 22). Scotlynn now seeks a default judgment against Defendants and an award of costs and attorney's fees. (Doc. 25).


         Rule 55 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure establishes a two-step procedure for obtaining default judgment. SeeFed. R. Civ. P. 55. First, when a defendant fails to plead or otherwise defend a lawsuit, the clerk of the court must enter a clerk's default against the defendant. Cohan v. Rist Properties, LLC, No. 2:14-cv-439-FTM, 2015 WL 224640, at *1-2 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 15, 2015) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a)). Second, after receiving the clerk's default, the court can enter a default judgment provided the defendant is not an infant or incompetent. Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2)); see also Solaroll Shade & Shutter Corp. v. Bio-Energy Sys. Inc., 803 F.2d 1130, 1134 (11th Cir. 1986) (stating a default judgment may be entered “against a defendant who never appears or answers a complaint, for in such circumstances the case never has been placed at issue.”).

         An entry of a clerk's default, however, does not per se warrant an entry of default judgment. Rather, a court may enter a default judgment only if “the well-pleaded allegations in the complaint, which are taken as true due to the default, actually state a substantive cause of action and that there is a substantive, sufficient basis in the pleadings for the particular relief sought.” Tyco Fire & Sec., LLC v. Alcocer, 218 F. App'x 860, 863 (11th Cir. 2007); Nishimatsu Constr. Co., Ltd. v. Houston Nat'l Bank, 515 F.2d 1200, 1206 (5th Cir. 1975) (“The defendant, by his default, admits the plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations of fact, is concluded on those facts by the judgment, and is barred from contesting on appeal the facts thus established . . . A default judgment is unassailable on the merits but only so far as it is supported by well-pleaded allegations, assumed to be true.” (citations omitted)). “The defendant is not held to admit facts that are not well-pleaded or to admit conclusions of law . . . [A] default is not treated as an absolute confession of the defendant of his liability and of the plaintiff's right to recover.” Nishimatsu, 515 F.2d at 1206. In considering a motion for default judgment, courts must “examine the sufficiency of plaintiff's allegations to determine whether the plaintiff is entitled to” relief. PNC Bank, N.A. v. Starlight Props. & Holdings, LLC, No. 6:13-cv-408, 2014 WL 2574040, at *1 (M.D. Fla. June 9, 2014) (citation omitted). With these principles in mind, the Court will address Scotlynn's Motion for Default Judgment.


         In its Complaint, Scotlynn alleges that Z Top's delivery of the Cargo in a damaged condition renders it liable both under the Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act, 49 U.S.C. § 14706 et seq., and for breach of contract. Scotlynn also brings a claim to enforce a lost instrument.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that Z Top is liable under the Carmack Amendment and thus awards Scotlynn damages commensurate with the loss as pled. That said, because attorney's fees cannot be recovered under the Carmack Amendment, the Court denies Scotlynn's request for same. See Fine Foliage of Fla., Inc. v. Bowman Transp., Inc., 698 F.Supp. 1566, 1576 (M.D. Fla. 1988).

         Concerning Scotlynn's breach of contract claim against Z Top, the Court finds that both are state law claims and thus preempted by the Carmack Amendment. As such, the Court does not find that Scotlynn is entitled to an alternative award of damages or attorney's fees under that claim. Finally, the Court taxes the cost of filing and service of process fees against Z Top.

         A. Count I - ...

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