United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. FRIEDMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
January 28, 2019, defendant Epiq Systems, Inc.
(“Epiq”) moved this Court to order plaintiff Mr.
Melvin Smith to provide a more definite statement of his
claims under Rule 12(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. See Epiq Systems' Motion for a More
Definite Statement (“Mot.”) [Dkt. No. 12]. In its
motion, Epiq argues that the Court should dismiss Mr.
Smith's case without prejudice pursuant to Rule 12(b)(4)
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure because service of
process was insufficient. See id. at 4 n.1.
Smith, proceeding pro se, has filed his complaint
against the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(“USDA”) and Epiq Systems, Inc. See
Complaint (“Compl.”) at 1 [Dkt. No.
1].In the In re Black Farmers
Discrimination Litigation case, a class of plaintiffs
brought suit against the USDA for racially discriminating
against African-Americans in the allocation of federal
agricultural programs. The Court approved a settlement
agreement between the plaintiff class and the USDA, and
designated Epiq as the Claims Administrator, tasked with
facilitating the settlement agreement. See Mot. at
2-3. Mr. Smith now asks the Court to order the USDA to allow
Epiq to accept and review the merits of his mother's
estate's application for relief through the settlement
process. See Compl. at 4.
Systems, Inc. is a corporation. See Mot. at 4.
Accordingly, it must be served consistent with Rule 4(h) of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which details the
proper procedure for serving a corporation, partnership or
association. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(h). Rule 4(m)
provides that a defendant must be served within 90 days after
the complaint is filed. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(m). If
the plaintiff does not comply with that time limit, the court
must dismiss the action without prejudice or order that
service be made within a specified time. See id. In
addition, a summons must contain the name of the parties and
be directed at the defendant. See Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(4) provides that a party may present a defense of
“insufficient process” by motion, as Epiq has
done here. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(4). According to
Epiq Systems, the “summons served by the Marshal . . .
did not refer to Epiq” and thus “[n]o valid
Summons for Epiq has been served.” See Mot. at
4. The Court agrees that the summons was not properly served
on Epiq Systems. A summons addressed to Epiq Systems, Inc.
and signed by the Clerk of Court appears on the docket.
See Summons [Dkt. No. 7] at 2. A process receipt and
return has also been filed, indicating that Todd Purdy, the
Director of Epiq Systems, was served by a U.S. Marshal on
January 7, 2019. See Epiq Systems, Inc. Process
Receipt and Return [Dkt. No. 10]. The summons with which Epiq
was served, however - appended as Exhibit A to the instant
motion - is addressed to the U.S. Attorney General.
See Mot. Ex. A.
D.C. Circuit has recognized that “[p]ro se litigants
are allowed more latitude than litigants represented by
counsel to correct defects in service of process and
pleadings.” See Moore v. Agency for Int'l
Dev., 994 F.2d 874, 876 (D.C. Cir. 1993); see also
Raja v. Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp., No. 16-cv-0511 (KBJ),
2018 WL 818393, at *5 (D.D.C. Feb. 12, 2018). That latitude,
however, “does not constitute a license for a plaintiff
filing pro se to ignore the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure.” See Moore v. Agency for Int'l
Dev., 994 F.2d at 876 (quoting Jarrell v.
Tisch, 656 F.Supp. 237, 239 (D.D.C. 1987)).
service of process serves two purposes: to assert personal
jurisdiction over a defendant and to notify the defendant
that a party has commenced legal action against it. See
Williams v. GEICO Corp., 792 F.Supp.2d 58, 65 (D.D.C.
2011); see also Toms v. Hantman, 530 F.Supp.2d 188,
190 (D.D.C. 2008) (“Before a court may exercise
personal jurisdiction over a defendant, the procedural
requirement of proper service of summons must be satisfied to
assure notice to the defendant.”). Proper service of
process therefore “is not some mindless
technicality.” See Williams v. GEICO Corp.,
792 F.Supp.2d at 65 (quoting Friedman v. Estate of
Presser, 929 F.2d 1151, 1156 (6th Cir. 1991)). Here, the
summons with which Epiq was served was not addressed to the
correct defendant, constituting invalid service. See
Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(a)(1)(A), (B). Before it will or can address
the merits of Epiq's motion, the Court must ensure
service is properly executed.
Smith's complaint was originally filed on May 30, 2018,
so the time limit for serving the defendants has passed.
See Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(m). But because it appears that
Mr. Smith has made a good faith effort to comply with Rule 4
to serve all necessary parties, the Court is inclined to
grant him leniency. Given that Epiq Systems was not served
correctly due to an error by the U.S. Marshals Service - and
not an error of his own making - it is hereby
that Epiq Systems, Inc.'s motion for a more definite
statement [Dkt. No. 12] is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE; and it
ORDERED that the Clerk of Court shall reissue the summons
addressed to Epiq Systems, Inc. to effect valid service on
 The scope of this Order is limited to
review of the sufficiency of the service of process on Epiq
pursuant to its motion. The Court does not consider any
deficiencies of ...