United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division
GLEN E. CONRAD, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
October 8, 2018, plaintiff Raymond Mason filed a complaint
against Lewis Contracting Services, LLC (“Lewis
Contracting”). Mason brought claims under Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et
seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29
U.S.C. § 621, et seq., which allegedly arose
from events taking place in early 2017.
25, 2019, the Clerk of Court issued a scheduling letter
requesting that the parties confer regarding trial dates. ECF
No. 23. On July 26, 2019 counsel for Lewis Contracting moved
to withdraw from this case on the grounds that Lewis
Contracting had failed to fulfill an obligation to them. ECF
No. 24. On October 7, 2019, this court denied counsel's
request on the basis that a corporate entity may not appear
in federal courts without a licensed attorney. ECF No. 25
(citing Rowland v. California Men's Colony, 506
U.S. 194, 202 (1993)). The court also imposed a 30-day stay
over this action to allow Lewis Contracting time to retain
new counsel. Id.
November 19, 2019, the Clerk of Court again issued a
scheduling letter. ECF No. 26. Thereafter, a jury trial was
set in this matter to begin on July 20, 2020. ECF No. 27. On
December 11, 2019, counsel for Lewis Contracting renewed
their motion to withdraw. ECF No. 28. In that motion, counsel
relayed that attempts at communication with Lewis Contracting
have been fruitless, and stated that they are unable to
ethically represent an unresponsive client. Thus, counsel
argues that they present grounds for withdrawal. W.D. Va.
L.R. (6)(i) (counsel may only withdraw from an action
“with the consent of the Court for good cause
shown”); Va. Rules of Prof'l Conduct R. 1.16(b)(6)
(lawyers may withdraw from a representation if good cause for
withdrawal exists). To date, Lewis Contracting has failed to
have new counsel appear on its behalf in this action.
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which govern this case,
require that courts employ the Rules “to secure the
just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action
and proceeding.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 1. The court sympathizes
with the difficult position counsel is in. Even more, the
court considers the delay that has been imposed on the
plaintiff in this case. Mason should not be strung along by
Lewis Contracting's apparent refusal to take part in this
corporate entity's failure to appoint counsel provides
grounds for a default judgment under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 55. To begin, a corporate entity cannot appear in
federal court without counsel. See Rowland, 506 U.S.
at 202; In re Under Seal, 749 F.3d 276, 290 n.17
(4th Cir. 2014). And when a party has “failed to plead
or otherwise defend” an action, the Clerk of Court must
enter the party's default. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). Such a
failure to “otherwise defend” includes
non-compliance with a court order for a corporate entity to
“obtain substitute counsel.” Hoxworth v.
Blinder, Robinson & Co., 980 F.2d 912, 918 (3d Cir.
1992). Thereafter, Rule 55(b) authorizes courts to enter a
default judgment on a plaintiff's motion. Fed.R.Civ.P.
55(b). Accordingly, courts regularly grant default judgment
where corporations fail to appear with counsel.
Hoxworth, 980 F.2d at 918; Allied Colloids, Inc.
v. Jadair, Inc., No. 96-2078, 1998 WL 112719 (4th Cir.
March 16, 1998) (affirming grant of default judgment where
corporate defendant failed to obtain local counsel as ordered
by court); N. Carolina Mut. Life Ins. Co. v.
Stamford Brook Capital, LLC, No. 1:16-CV-1174,
2018 WL 7982866, at *1 (M.D. N.C. Aug. 16, 2018) (“[I]f
new counsel does not appear on behalf of Stamford Brook and
Forefront Capital, the claims against them may be treated as
Lewis Contracting has been on notice that new counsel was
required in this action since at least July 2019. ECF No. 24.
More than two months have passed since this court explicitly
informed Lewis Contracting that it could not proceed without
new attorneys. ECF No. 25. The court will grant one further
opportunity for the defendant to appoint new counsel: until
January 10, 2020. Lewis Contracting is expressly warned that
further delay invites default judgment, due in no part to the
actions of their current counsel. The court notes that
counsel has been responsive to the court's orders and
communications both before and after its motions to withdraw.
corporation's failure to comply with court orders and to
take part in a litigation also provides grounds for
sanctions. See, e.g., Bolus v.
Fleetwood RV, Inc., 646 Fed.Appx. 316, 318 (4th Cir.
2016) (affirming dismissal for failure to pay award of
attorney's fees to plaintiff based on corporate
defendant's months-long “failure to exercise
greater diligence in seeking local counsel”). Any
failure to comply with this order, or others issued by this
court, invites sanctions.
court is constrained to not grant counsel's motion to
withdraw as counsel at the present time. See
Rowland, 506 U.S. at 202; see also Clayton v.
Dickens, No. 7:08-CV-00592, 2009 WL 4928057, at *1 (W.D.
Va. Dec. 18, 2009) (Conrad, J.) (denying motion to withdraw
despite indication that good cause existed). However,
attorneys are not bound to forever represent their clients.
The court will defer ruling on this motion until the deadline
for new counsel to appear for Lewis Contracting is reached.
reasons stated, the court will take the motion to withdraw as
counsel under advisement. However, the defendant is ordered
to have new counsel appear on its behalf in this action no
later than January 10, 2020. The court will again stay this
case until that date, or until new counsel appears for Lewis
Contracting, whichever is sooner. Plaintiff may proceed with
discovery and motion practice thereafter.
Clerk is directed to send copies of this memorandum opinion
and the accompanying order to the ...