United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division
CLERK OF THE CIRCUIT COURT AN COMPTROLLER FOR COLLIER COUNTY, FLORIDA, Plaintiff Plaintiff,
SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION and THE M.B.W. BUILDING, INC., Defendants.
the Court is Plaintiff Clerk of the Circuit Court and
Comptroller for Collier County, Florida’s Motion for
Entry of Default Judgment (Doc. 23). The Comptroller
seeks a default judgment against Defendant M.B.W. Building,
Inc. Also here is a Stipulation and Order for Entry of
Judgment in Interpleader and Dismissal (Doc. 25)
jointly filed by the Comptroller and Defendant United States
Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). The
Court grants the Motion for default judgment (Doc.
Comptroller brought an interpleader action against SEC and
MBW. (Doc. 4). The stake is surplus funds resulting
from the tax-deed sale of property. (Doc. 4 at 1-2).
Those funds amount to $75, 280.44. (Doc. 4-2). Both
SEC and MBW claimed entitlement to the surplus funds.
(Docs. 4 at 2-3; 4-3; 4-4).
Because of the conflicting claims, the Comptroller filed this
interpleader action in state court. (Doc. 4). SEC
removed here. (Doc. 1).
service of the Complaint (Doc. 1-3 at 60), notice of
removal (Doc. 1 at 3), and Motion for default
judgment (Doc. 23 at 5), MBW never appeared. So the
Court entered a clerk’s default against MBW. (Docs.
20; 21). Now, the Comptroller moves for default
judgment. MBW failed to respond, and the time to do so
obtain default judgment, a party must first obtain a
clerk’s default. Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(a). Here,
the Court entered clerk’s default against MBW.
(Docs. 20; 21). After a clerk’s
default, a court may enter default judgment against a
defendant who fails to plead or otherwise defend.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 55. A clerk’s
default alone does not justify default judgment, however.
Tyco Fire & Sec., LLC v. Alcocer, 218 F.
App’x 860, 863 (11th Cir. 2007). So the Court
must ensure the well-pled allegations in a complaint state a
claim and there is a sufficient basis for relief.
authorizes its county clerks to conduct tax-deed sales.
Fla. Stat. § 197.542 (2016). Florida
Statute § 197.582 governs disbursement of the sale
proceeds. One provision allows county clerks to bring
interpleader actions when-like here-there are conflicting
claims to the surplus funds of the sale. Fla. Stat.
§ 197.582(3). And SEC could remove to federal court
under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2410 and 1444.
E.g., Leathers v. Leathers, 856 F.3d 729,
750 (10th Cir. 2017); Southtrust Mortg. Corp. v. Majestic
Farms, LLC, No. 5:07-cv-328-Oc-10GRJ, 2007 WL
4463929, at *2-3 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 17, 2007).
claimant (defendant) in an interpleader case fails to plead
or otherwise claim an interest in the stake, default judgment
may be proper. E.g., Columbus Life Ins. v.
Allen, No. 3:13-cv-1612-J-39JBT, 2015 WL 12696200,
at *1-2 (M.D. Fla. Apr. 23, 2015) (collecting cases).
While not necessarily dispositive, “default simplifies
resolution” because “if all but one named
interpleader defendant defaulted, the remaining defendant
would be entitled to the fund.” Publix Super Mkts.,
Inc. v. Wilkins, No. 8:17-cv-1918-T-27JSS, 2018 WL
3650108, at *1-2 (M.D. Fla. June 4, 2018) (citation
omitted) (collecting cases), report and recommendation
adopted, 2018 WL 3650045 (July 5, 2018).
clerk’s default, MBW admitted the Complaint’s
well-pled allegations below. Giovanno v. Fabec, 804
F.3d 1361, 1366 (11th Cir. 2015). Both MBW and SEC
submitted claims for entitlement to the surplus funds.
(Docs. 4 at 2-3; 4-3; 4-4).
SEC’s claim stems from an unsatisfied judgment, nearing
$32 million, in favor of SEC and against the previous owner
of the subject property. (Docs. 4 at 2-3;
4-4). Enforcing that judgment, this Court entered an
order freezing the previous owner’s assets before MBW
took possession of the property. (Docs. 4 at 3;
4-5; 4-6). Because MBW took title to the
property when the previous owner’s assets were frozen
and nothing suggests this Court allowed a sale, MBW’s
claim to the funds is clouded. (Doc. 4 at 3). Thus,
the well-pled allegations support the plausible inference
that SEC is entitled to the surplus funds, not MBW. See
Wilkins, 2018 WL 3650108, at *1-2 (stating the
“default of the other defendants makes clear that
[appearing defendant] is the proper beneficiary”). And
MBW waived its claim to the stake by defaulting. See
id.; Columbus Life Ins. v. Allen (Allen II),
No. 3:13-cv-1612-J-39JBT, 2015 WL 12838836, at *2
(M.D. Fla. Aug. 11, 2015), report and recommendation
adopted, 2015 WL 12839180 (Oct. 6, 2015). So
SEC has a right to default judgment.
that established, the Court turns to disbursement of the
surplus funds. See Wilkins, 2018 WL 3650108, at *2
(The “disbursement of the interpleaded funds may be
ordered simultaneously with the entry of final judgment
against the defaulted defendants.”). Attached to the
Complaint is an affidavit declaring the surplus funds amount
to $75, 280.44 plus accrued interest. (Doc. 4-2).
The Comptroller and SEC stipulate SEC should recover that
amount, minus reasonable attorney’s fees and costs for
the Comptroller. (Doc. 25 at 2). Disinterested
stakeholders who bring interpleader actions may be entitled
to reasonable fees and costs. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am.
v. Boyd, 781 F.2d 1494, 1497 (11th Cir. 1986).
So as agreed to by the remaining parties, SEC is entitled to
the surplus funds after the Comptroller deducts $7, 872.82
for fees and costs. (Doc. 25 at 2-3).
the Comptroller must disburse the surplus funds as outlined
in the Stipulation (Doc. 25). After doing so-within
two weeks-the parties must jointly file a notice that all
funds are allocated, and the case can be dismissed.
it is now
1. Plaintiff’s Motion for Entry of Default Judgment