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Alridge v. G4S Secure Solutions USA, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 8, 2019

COURTNEY T. ALRIDGE, Plaintiff,
v.
G4S SECURE SOLUTIONS USA, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The United States Secret Service denied pro se Plaintiff Courtney Alridge's job application, and he believes that he knows why: his previous employer, Defendant G4S Secure Solutions, disclosed to the U.S.S.S. that it had previously suspended him. The problem? Alridge claims he was never suspended and that this representation was false and defamatory. As a result, Alridge filed a tort action against G4S in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Having removed the action to this Court, G4S has now filed a Motion to Dismiss for insufficient service of process and improper venue. As the Court finds these arguments unavailing, it will deny the Motion.

I. Background

         On April 17, 2019, Alridge filed a single-paragraph, handwritten Complaint against G4S, alleging that it was “negligent with [his] employee work file.” ECF No. 3 (Notice of Removal Errata), Exh. A at 4 (Complaint); see also ECF No. 11 (Plaintiff's Opposition), Exh. B (more legible copy of Complaint). More specifically, Plaintiff believes that Defendant somehow placed inaccurate suspension paperwork in his file. These papers purportedly appeared in the course of a background check when Alridge applied for a job with the Secret Service. See Compl. Plaintiff claims that this mishandling of his personnel file and authentication of false documents constitute defamation and negligence. Id He believes that these actions cost him the job with the U.S.S.S. and its accompanying increased earnings. Id. The relief requested is $80, 000. Id. After receiving service of process on April 22, 2019, see Pl. Opp., Exh. A. (Return Receipt) at 1 2, Defendant removed this action from Superior Court to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction. See ECF No. 1 (Notice of Removal), ¶¶ 5-12. Plaintiff is a resident of Maryland, and G4S is incorporated in Florida. See Compl.; Notice of Removal, ¶¶ 6 7.

         Almost immediately following the removal, Defendant filed this Motion seeking to dismiss Plaintiffs suit on the grounds of insufficient service of process and improper venue. See ECF No. 8 (Defendant Motion to Dismiss) at 2.

         II. Legal Standard

         In the course of evaluating a defendant's motion to dismiss, the Court must accept a plaintiffs well-pleaded allegations as true and “draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Myers v. Holiday Inns, Inc., 915 F.Supp. 2d, 136, 144 (D.D.C. 2013). The Court, however, does not need to accept as true “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Trudeau v. FTC, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). The Court, furthermore, holds documents drafted by a pro se plaintiff to “less stringent standards” than legal documents drafted by an attorney. See Gage v. Somerset Cnty., 369 F.Supp. 3d 252, 258 (D.D.C. 2019) (citation omitted).

         Service of process is a procedural requirement that “must be satisfied . . . before a federal court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant.” Lemma v. Hispanic Nat'l Bar Ass'n, 318 F.Supp. 3d 21, 24 (D.D.C. 2018) (citing Omni Capital Int'l, Ltd. v. Rudolf Wolff & Co., Ltd, 484 U.S. 97, 104 (1987)). When evaluating a motion to dismiss for insufficient service under Rule 12(b)(5), the plaintiff bears the burden of showing that he properly served the defendant. See Light v. Wolf 816 F.2d 746, 751 (DC. Cir. 1987). The court has discretion to dismiss the claim or allow the plaintiff to correct service of process. See Wilson v. Prudential Fin., 332 F.Supp.2d 83, 89 (D.D.C. 2004).

         When a plaintiff brings suit in an improper venue, the district court “shall dismiss [the case], or if it be in the interest of justice, transfer such case to any district or division in which it could have been brought.” 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(3) (stating that defendant may assert improper venue via motion). “Because it is the plaintiffs obligation to institute the action in a permissible forum, the plaintiff usually bears the burden of establishing that venue is proper.” Freeman v. Fallin, 254 F.Supp.2d 52, 56 (D.D.C. 2003); see also 14D Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Fed. Prac. & Proc. Juris. § 3826 (4th ed. 2019) (noting that most federal courts place burden of establishing venue as proper on plaintiff when defendant has made proper objection). “To prevail on a motion to dismiss for improper venue, ” however, “the defendant must present facts that will defeat the plaintiffs assertion of venue.” Khalil v. L-3 Commc'ns Titan Grp., 656 F.Supp.2d 134, 135 (D.D.C. 2009). “Unless there are pertinent factual disputes to resolve, a challenge to venue presents a pure question of law.” Williams v. GEICO Corp., 792 F.Supp.2d 58, 62 (D.D.C. 2011).

         III. Analysis

         G4S bases its Motion on two grounds: insufficient service of process and improper venue. The Court considers each in turn.

         A. Service of Process

         As a preliminary matter, the Court must address what procedural rules govern service of process here. Defendant's Motion evaluates service under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See MTD at 2-3. This is erroneous because Plaintiff attempted service prior to the removal of the case. As a result, the rules of Superior Court control. See Magowan v. Lowery, 166 F.Supp.3d 39, 65 (D.D.C. 2016) (looking at Superior Court service rules in removed case). The distinction is, to some extent, trivial because the Federal Rules allow for service to be effectuated if the applicable state rules are followed. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(h)(1)(A); see also Fed. R Civ. P. 4(e)(1).

         That is the case here as Plaintiff has indeed properly effectuated service pursuant to D.C. law. According to D.C. Rule of Civil Procedure 4(h)(1)(A), a corporation may be served in the same manner as an individual - which includes the service-of-process options of certified mail or first-class mail as outlined in D.C. Rules 4(c)(4) and 4(c)(5). Contrary to Defendant's characterization, these two subsections are not separate requirements for service, but rather separate options for service. D.C. Rule 4(c)(4) prescribes that a defendant “may be served 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.” When service is conducted in accordance with this subsection, there is an additional requirement of a signed affidavit under D.C. Rule 4(/)(1)(B). Defendant nonetheless contends that process is insufficient because there was no return envelope with pre-paid postage received. See MTD at 3. Yet, this is only a requirement for service by first-class mail under D.C. Rule 4(c)(5). As Plaintiff sent the relevant documents via certified mail to G4S, see Pl. Opp., ¶ 3, the return-envelope requirements of D.C. Rule 4(c)(5) are not relevant. Defendant has already conceded that it received the Summons, Complaint, and Initial Order. See MTD at 3. Plaintiffs Opposition, ...


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