United States District Court, D. Columbia
For LORI ROBINSON, Plaintiff: Clifford G. Stewart, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, LAW OFFICE OF C. GREGORY STEWART, Newark, NJ; Samuel Bailey, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, SAMUEL BAILEY & ASSOCIATES, Washington, DC.
For ERGO SOLUTIONS, LLC, Defendant: Bernard Cecil Coleman, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICES OF BERNARD C. COLEMAN, JR, Oxon Hill, MD.
JOHN D. BATES, United States District Judge.
Plaintiff Lori Robinson (" Robinson" ) brings this action against her employer, Ergo Solutions, LLC (" Ergo" ), alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Specifically, she alleges that she was sexually harassed and subjected to a hostile work environment because of her gender. Ergo has filed a motion to dismiss for insufficient service of process.
For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny Ergo's motion to dismiss.
Robinson filed this action on January 26, 2012, naming Ergo as the only defendant. Her complaint details a pattern of pervasive sexual harassment bye Jason Henderson, Ergo's Chief Information Officer and partial owner. Compl. ¶ 7. Henderson also happens to be Ergo's registered agent for service of process. July 23, 2012 Statement of Process Server Mark Hagood (" Hagood Stmt." ) [ECF No. 4].
Just days before Rule 4(m)'s 120-day deadline for service of process, Robinson filed a motion for an extension of time to serve the defendant. Pl.'s First Mot. for Extension [ECF No. 2]. In support of that motion, Robinson included a " report" from the process server whom she had hired, Mark Hagood of J.M. & Associates. Hagood reported multiple attempts to serve Henderson at his listed address, including one in which he saw people inside Henderson's home who refused to answer the door. Pl.'s First Mot. for Extension ¶ 5. Robinson argued that the requested extension was justified because of " avoidance of service by the designated Registered Agent" of Ergo. The Court granted a 60-day extension. See May 24, 2012 Minute Order.
The day before Robinson's new deadline, she filed a motion seeking a second 60-day extension. Pl.'s Second Mot. for Extension [ECF No. 2]. That motion included a letter and a signed affidavit from Hagood, describing five additional attempts to serve process on Henderson, all of which were unsuccessful. Hagood Stmt. Hagood explained that the occupants of the home " would not open the door," or would " run inside of the residence" when he or his colleagues arrived. Id. The Court granted a second 60-day extension, but cautioned Robison that " [n]o further extensions [would] be granted absent extraordinary circumstances." July 27, 2012 Minute Order.
On the day of Robinson's final deadline, September 24, 2012, she successfully served a copy of the summons and complaint--but not on Henderson. See Proof of Service [ECF No. 4]. Instead, she served the Corporations Division of the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (the " DCRA Corporations Division" ). Id. The Proof of Service included a signed affidavit from the process server, a date-stamped copy of the summons showing receipt by the DCRA Corporations Division, copies of the prior affidavits demonstrating Henderson's purported avoidance of service, and copies of certified mail receipts demonstrating her attempt to mail a copy of the summons and complaint to Henderson. See id. The certified mail confirmation suggested that Henderson had not actually signed for the documents. See id.
Over six months passed with nary a word from the parties--no answer, no Rule 12 motion, no motion for default. On April 2, 2013 the Court issued an order calling for a status report. Apr. 2, 2013 Minute Order. Robinson filed her status report simultaneously with an affidavit for default. Pl.'s Aff. for Default [ECF No. 5]; Pl.'s Apr. 11, 2013 Status Report [ECF No. 6]. Robinson's affidavit in support of default stated that " ERGO Solutions, LLC" was " personally served with process on September 24, 2012." Pl.'s Aff. for Default. The affidavit requested that the Clerk of the Court enter a default against Ergo, a request that the Clerk granted the next day. Clerk's Entry of Default [ECF No. 7].
Just over a month later, Robinson filed a motion for default judgment. Pl.'s Mot.
for Default J. [ECF No. 8]. Despite the Court's order requiring any such motion to " includ[e] a specification of the damages sought," May 7, 2013 Minute Order, Robinson asked for $200,000 in compensatory damages and $200,000 in punitive damages without providing any detail or evidentiary support for those requests. As a result, the Court scheduled a hearing on the issue of damages. See Nov. 25, 2013 Minute Order (citing
United States v. Bentley, 756 F.Supp.2d 1, 3 (D.D.C. 2010) (" Although the default establishes a defendant's liability, the court is required to make an independent determination of the sum to be awarded unless the amount of damages is certain." )). In the same order, the Court also instructed Ergo to file a witness list if it wished to participate in the damages hearing, and instructed the Clerk of the Court to mail a copy of the Order to the Ergo. Id.
Two weeks after the deadline to file a witness list came and went, and just three days before the damages hearing, Ergo's counsel made an appearance in the case for the first time. Ergo filed a motion to dismiss for insufficient service of process, and accused the " affiant filing the affidavit of service" of " commit[ing] fraud upon the Court." Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss (" MTD" ) [ECF No. 15] at 1; see also Ex. A to MTD, Affidavit of Jason Scott Henderson (" Henderson Aff." ) ¶ 12 (" I have not been served a summons and complaint as the process server acknowledges in the affidavit filed with this Court." ). Robinson responded that service of process was perfected upon serving the DCRA Corporations Division, and characterized Ergo's motion as frivolous and sanctionable. Pl.'s Opp'n [ECF No. 16] at 1. In its reply, Ergo argued that service was improper due to a typographical error in the address listed on the summons. Compare Proof of Service (" 22707 Franklin Street" ), with Hagood Stmt. (" 2207 Franklin Street" ). Robinson filed a sur-reply (without seeking leave from the ...