United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division
JEFFREY L. VIKEN CHIEF JUDGE
11, 2015, plaintiff Clayton Walker filed a complaint against
defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Docket 1).
Defendants Black Hills Fugitive Task Force (“Task
Force”) failed to respond, and the clerk of court
entered default in Mr. Walker's favor. (Docket 20).
Defendants move to set aside the entry of default and to
dismiss Mr. Walker's complaint. (Dockets 23 & 29).
Mr. Walker moves for default judgment and summary judgment.
(Dockets 21 & 35). The court gave notice to the parties
it was converting portions of defendants' motion to
dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. (Docket 42). Mr.
Walker also moves to amend his complaint. (Docket 46). For
the reasons below, the court grants in part and denies in
part defendants' motions and denies plaintiff's
Defendant Task Force's motion to set aside the entry of
court may set aside an entry of default for good cause . . .
.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(c). “When examining whether
good cause exists, the district court should weigh
‘whether the conduct of the defaulting party was
blameworthy or culpable, whether the defaulting party has a
meritorious defense, and whether the other party would be
prejudiced if the default were excused.' ”
Stephenson v. El-Batrawi, 524 F.3d 907, 912 (8th
Cir. 2008) (citing Johnson v. Dayton Elec. Mfg. Co.,
140 F.3d 781, 784 (8th Cir. 1998)). The court will focus on
the meritorious defense aspect of good cause because it is
relevant to this case.
Existence of a meritorious defense
an existing meritorious defense “underscore[s] the
potential injustice of allowing the case to be disposed of by
default, . . . thus triggering the incessant command of a
court's conscience that justice be done in light of all
the facts.” Johnson, 140 F.3d at 784 (internal
citations and quotation marks omitted). “Whether a
meritorious defense exists is determined by examining whether
the proffered evidence would permit a finding for the
defaulting party.” Stephenson, 524 F.3d at 914
(citing Johnson, 140 F.3d at 785) (internal
quotation marks and other citations omitted). “The
underlying concern is . . . whether there is some possibility
that the outcome . . . after a full trial will be contrary to
the result achieved by the default.” Id.
(internal citation and quotation marks omitted).
motion to set aside the entry of default, defendant Task
Force asserts it is not an entity subject to suit. (Docket 24
at pp. 7-8). In support of its motion, the Task Force
provides a declaration from defendant Joseph Harmon, a Deputy
United States Marshal and member of the Task Force,
explaining the nature of the Task Force. (Docket 25 at pp.
1-3). Plaintiff's response to the Task Force's motion
reasserts his motion for a default judgment, but does not
explain whether the Task Force can be sued. (Dockets 32 at
pp. 1-2 and 43 at pp. 5-6).
Brown v. Fifth Judicial Dist. Drug Task Force, the
United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, on
plain error review, upheld a district court's
determination the defendant Task Force was a
multi-governmental unit that was not capable of being sued.
255 F.3d 475, 476-78 (8th Cir. 2001). In support of this
conclusion, the Eighth Circuit noted “authorities more
directly in point appear to be uniform in holding that drug
task forces similar to the defendant in this case are not
separate legal entities subject to suit.” Id.
at 477-78 (citing Eversole v. Steele, 59 F.3d 710
(7th Cir. 1995); Hervey v. Estes, 65 F.3d 784, 792
(9th Cir. 1995); Dillon v. Jefferson County Sheriff's
Department, 973 F.Supp. 626 (E.D. Tex. 1997);
Alexander v. City of Rockwall, No. CIV.A.
3:95-CV-0489, 1998 WL 684255 (N.D. Tex., Sept. 29, 1998)).
The core question in these cases is whether creation of the
task force meant to form a separate legal entity. See,
e.g., Eversole, 59 F.3d at 791-92. Based on the
declaration of Deputy Harmon, the Task Force in this case is
not a discrete law enforcement agency. (Docket 25 at p. 3).
The Task Force is “a joint, intergovernmental
cooperative law enforcement effort to locate and arrest
federal, state, and local fugitives.” Id. The
Task Force is not subject to suit. See Brown, 255
F.3d at 476-78. Because the Task Force lacks the capacity to
sue or be sued, it has a meritorious defense to
plaintiff's claims. Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(c), the
court grants the motion to set aside the entry of default
against the Task Force.
Plaintiff's motion for default judgment as to the Task
court denies plaintiff's motion for default judgment.
Defendants' motion to dismiss for insufficient service of
the August 1, 2016, order plaintiff accomplished service in
compliance with Rule 4(i). (Docket 44 at p. 1).
Defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter
their Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, defendants argue
sovereign immunity bars plaintiff's suit against the Task
Force and Deputy Harmon. (Docket 30 at pp. 8-10). The United
States and its agencies are generally immune from suit.
FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994)
(“Absent a waiver, sovereign immunity shields the
Federal Government and its agencies from suit.”);
Brown v. United States, 151 F.3d 800, 803-04 (8th
Cir. 1998). “Sovereign immunity is a jurisdictional
issue . . . .” Rupp v. Omaha IndianTribe, 45 F.3d 1241, 1244 (8th Cir. 1995). If ...