United States District Court, D. Columbia.
For CHAITRI HAPUGALLE, Plaintiff: John Edward Williams, LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICES OF JOHN E. WILLIAMS, Esq., Alexandria, VA.
For MARK RADDATZ, Defendant: E. L. Pugh, RADDATZ LAW FIRM, PLLC, Washington, DC.
For KEENER MANAGEMENT, DEBRA LEHAN, CHASTLETON COOPERATIVE ASSOCIATION, Defendants: E. L. Pugh, LEAD ATTORNEY, RADDATZ LAW FIRM, PLLC, Washington, DC.
TANYA S. CHUTKAN, United States District Judge.
Defendants, who removed this action from D.C. Superior Court on October 15, 2014, have moved to dismiss on two grounds: that no Defendant was properly served, and that the entire matter is precluded as res judicata. Plaintiff has effectively conceded that service was insufficient and appears to have made no attempt to correct the defects. Accordingly, the Court dismisses the case without prejudice and does not reach the independent question of whether the case is barred under the doctrines of claim preclusion and issue preclusion.
Plaintiff initially filed a complaint in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia against Mark Raddatz, Debra Lehan, Keener Management and Chastleton Cooperative Association, Incorporated. (ECF No. 1-1 at 9). Plaintiff lived in the Chastleton co-op building and her lawsuit centers around her eviction, which was the subject of two consolidated actions before the Landlord-Tenant Branch of the D.C. Superior Court. In her amended complaint she asserts that Defendants violated federal housing, discrimination and debt collection laws, as well as various state and local laws. (ECF No. 4-1 at 16, 32-43).
On September 29, 2014 the Defendants filed a motion in Superior Court seeking to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint as barred by principles of res judicata and for failure to properly effectuate service of process. (ECF No. 4-1 at 64). In response, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, and filled out new summonses purportedly directed at the appropriate defendants and addressed to their registered agents. (ECF No. 4-1 at 15). On that same day, she filed a brief in which she argued that dismissal was not appropriate because any deficiencies in service of process " should" have been " cure[d]" by her " provision" of the new addresses. (ECF No. 4-1 at 58). Plaintiff also indicated in her brief that a " Second Amended Complaint" was being prepared and a motion was forthcoming " soon," in which leave would be sought to file said complaint. (ECF No. 4-1 at 58).
Defendants removed the action to this court prior to a ruling by the Superior Court on their motion to dismiss. On November 17, 2014, Defendants refiled their motion to dismiss in this court. (ECF No. 8). Plaintiff, now represented by counsel, responded by raising arguments virtually identical to those raised by Plaintiff when proceeding pro se in Superior Court, including the argument that Plaintiff's filing of the amended complaint, despite the absence of proof of service, cured any deficiencies. (Pl. Opp'n at 2). Plaintiff characterized her brief as a " protective filing" because she had previously filed her response in D.C. Superior Court and that response was " presumably" transmitted to this Court " upon removal of the case." (Pl. Opp'n at 3).
II. LEGAL STANDARD
When the sufficiency of service is challenged, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that service was validly perfected. Light v. Wolf, 816 F.2d 746, 751, 259 U.S.App.D.C. 442 (D.C. Cir. 1987). " If the plaintiff fails to meet this burden, the court may dismiss the complaint for ineffective service of process." Wilson v. U.S. Park Police, 300 F.R.D. 606, 608 (D.D.C. 2014).
The adequacy of service prior to removal is governed by the law of the original forum, in this instance the District of Columbia. UMC Dev., LLC v. District of Columbia, 982 F.Supp.2d 13, 17 (D.D.C. 2013); 14C Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Fed. Prac. & Procedure § 3738 (4th ed.). D.C. Superior Court Civil Rule 4 addresses the manner of service, and Rule 4(c)(3) permits service of a person or corporation by " mailing a copy of the summons, complaint and initial order to the person ...