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Chen v. District of Columbia

March 25, 2009

ZHI CHEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court on the motion of the District of Columbia and Metropolitan Police Department Officer Chancham Spears to dismiss the complaint for insufficiency of service of process pursuant to Rule 12(b)(5) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.*fn1 For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant the motion and dismiss without prejudice Ms. Chen's claims against the District of Columbia and Officer Spears.*fn2

According to Ms. Chen, Officer Charles Monk of the Metropolitan Police Department detained her without cause on a street in the District of Columbia's Chinatown neighborhood in the early morning hours of April 21, 2007. See Complaint ¶ 9 ("Compl."). It appears that Officer Monk was acting on a mistaken belief that Ms. Chen had failed to pay a $60 bill at a local Red Roof Inn. See id. ¶¶ 13-19. Ms. Chen claims that Officer Monk shouted at her, grabbed her left arm, pushed her across the street, "slammed" her on the hood of a car and handcuffed her. Id. ¶¶ 9-10. Officer Monk then called Officers Ha and Spears for assistance. See id. ¶ 10. Without advising Ms. Chen of her Miranda rights, "Officer Ha and Spears put [Ms. Chen] into their own police patrol car" and drove her to the complaining Red Roof Inn. Id. ¶ 11. While at the Red Roof Inn, Officers Ha and Spears looked on as Officer Monk searched Ms. Chen, removed $60 from her pocket and gave it to the cashier. Id. ¶¶ 12-15. Ms. Chen claims that Officers Ha and Spears never asked Officer Monk why Ms. Chen was being detained, and ignored her pleas for help and her requests for an interpreter. See id. ¶¶ 15-16. Later that day, according to Ms. Chen, Officer Monk returned the money to her, admitted that he had made a mistake and apologized to her. Id. ¶ 19.

On January 9, 2008, Ms. Chen filed suit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, naming as defendants the District of Columbia, Officer Monk, Officer Ha, Officer Spears and Red Roof Inns. Her complaint set forth eight counts, including claims for personal injury, false arrest and imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of Ms. Chen's constitutional rights. Defendants thereafter invoked 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b) and removed the case to this Court. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b) (permitting removal of "[a]ny civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction founded on a claim or right arising under the Constitution, treaties or laws of the United States").

I. SERVICE OF PROCESS

A. Service on Individuals

Service of process upon individuals within a judicial district of the United States is governed by Rule 4(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 4(e)(2) states that service upon an individual may be effected by delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to the individual personally; leaving a copy of each at the individual's dwelling or usual place of abode with someone of suitable age and discretion who resides there; or delivering a copy of each to an agent authorized by appointment or by law to receive service of process.

FED. R. CIV. P. 4(e)(2). Rule 4(e)(1) also permits service to be effected by "following state law for serving a summons in an action brought in courts of general jurisdiction in the state where the district court is located or where service is made." FED. R. CIV. P. 4(e)(1). The Civil Rules of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia establish, in pertinent part, service requirements mirroring those in Rule 4(e)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See D.C. SUPER. CT. CIV. R. 4(e)(2). Rule 4(c) of the Civil Rules of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia also permits service to be effected upon an individual by certified or registered mail. See D.C. SUPER. CT. CIV. R. 4(c)(3).

B. Service on the District of Columbia

Rule 4(j)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that service upon "[a] state, a municipal corporation, or any other state-created governmental organization" shall be effected by delivering a copy of the summons and the complaint to the chief executive officer (here, the Mayor of the District of Columbia), or "by serving a copy [of the summons and complaint] in the manner prescribed by that state's law for serving a summons or like process on such a defendant." FED. R. CIV. P. 4(j)(2). Rule 4(j)(1) of the Civil Rules of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia prescribes the method for effecting service of process on the District of Columbia:

Service shall be made upon the District of Columbia by delivering . . . or mailing (pursuant to paragraph (c)(3)) a copy of the summons, complaint and initial order to the Mayor of the District of Columbia (or designee) and the Corporation Counsel [now the Attorney General] of the District of Columbia (or designee). The Mayor and the Corporation Counsel may each designate an employee for receipt of service of process by filing a written notice with the Clerk of the [Superior] Court.

D.C. SUPER. CT. CIV. R. 4(j)(1) (emphasis added). Paragraph (c)(3) states that service may be effected "by mailing a copy of the summons, complaint and initial order to the person to be served by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested." D.C. SUPER. CT. CIV. R. 4(c)(3).

The Mayor has designated the Secretary of the District of Columbia as his agent for receipt of legal correspondence including summonses and complaints. See Mayor's Order 2004-77 at 1 (May 14, 2004). In addition, the Mayor has ordered that

[t]he Secretary shall designate from time to time, by office order, one or more personnel to handle the receipt of legal correspondence addressed to the Mayor. The personnel so designated shall receive legal correspondence either from the person effecting service upon the Secretary, from the ...


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