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Wiggins v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.

July 23, 2001

JAMES R. WIGGINS, SR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard W. Roberts United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, James R. Wiggins, Sr., filed this lawsuit alleging that State Farm Fire and Casualty Company ("State Farm") wrongfully obtained a default judgment against him in the District of Columbia Superior Court. Plaintiff in his amended complaint asserts causes of action for malicious prosecution, defamation, and abuse of process. State Farm filed a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment, and plaintiff filed a response which included a Rule 56(f) request for discovery.

Because the requested discovery either has been completed or is not relevant to the dispositive issues, the Rule 56(f) motion will be denied. Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on the malicious prosecution claim because it is barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Defendant is also entitled to summary judgment on the defamation claim because plaintiff has not presented evidence that defendant published the default judgment. Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on the abuse of process claim because plaintiff has not presented evidence that State Farm obtained anything from its lawsuit other than a default judgment, a regularly and legally obtainable result of the judicial process.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is James R. Wiggins, Sr., and his son is James R. Wiggins, Jr. In January 1994, State Farm filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia against "James R. Wiggins and Karen Capers." Karen Capers is James R. Wiggins, Jr.'s wife.

In connection with the Superior Court lawsuit, State Farm, through a process server, delivered a copy of the summons and complaint to Christopher Wiggins, the nephew of James R. Wiggins, Jr. and the grandson of James R. Wiggins, Sr. The summons and complaint was served at 5408 Kansas Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C., the home of James R. Wiggins, Sr. James R. Wiggins, Jr., did not live at the Kansas Avenue address and had not lived there for many years.

In September 1994, State Farm obtained a default judgment in the amount of $35,053,53, plus interest, against "James R. Wiggins." The unsatisfied default judgment began to appear on credit reports for James R. Wiggins, Sr.

State Farm filed a motion with the Superior Court to have the default judgment amended to reflect that it was against James R. Wiggins, Jr. The Superior Court granted the motion on February 15, 1996, but the default judgment was still reflected on plaintiff's credit reports at the time this lawsuit was filed in May 1998.

DISCUSSION

I. Rule 56(f) Motion

Rule 56(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that if it should

appear from the affidavits of a party opposing the motion [for summary judgment] that the party cannot for reasons stated present by affidavit facts essential to justify the party's opposition, the court may refuse the application for judgment or may order a continuance to permit affidavits to be obtained or depositions to be taken or discovery to be had or may make such other order as is just. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(f).

Rule 56(f) recognizes the importance of discovery in defending a motion for summary judgment. Dyson v. Winfield, 113 F. Supp. 2d 35, 42 (D.D.C. 2000). Rule 56(f) "allows a summary judgment motion to be denied, or the hearing on the motion to be continued, if the nonmoving party has not had an opportunity to make full discovery." Id. (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 326 (1986)).

In this case, plaintiff stated that he needed to depose Kenneth Epps, the State Farm agent, and to depose the process server. It appears from the record that plaintiff has now deposed Epps. See Deposition of Kenneth Epps, ...


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