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Griffin v. Wintle

United States District Court, D. Maine

March 28, 2016

ANTHONY M. GRIFFIN, Plaintiff.
v.
JEREMY WINTLE, Defendant.

RECOMMENDED DECISION AND ORDER

JOHN C. NIVISON, Magistrate Judge.

In this action, Plaintiff Anthony Griffin, currently an inmate at the Maine State Prison, alleges that Defendant Jeremy Wintle, a corrections officer at the Penobscot County Jail, assaulted Plaintiff after Plaintiff did not comply with an order to lock down in his cell. (Complaint, ΒΆ IV.) The matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Discovery (ECF No. 21), and Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment (ECF No. 22).

After review of Plaintiff's motions and the record, I recommend the Court deny the Motion for Default Judgment. In addition, Plaintiff's Motion for Discovery is denied without prejudice.

A. Motion for Default Judgment

On December 10, 2015, the U.S. Marshal filed a return of service which reflected that after an unsuccessful attempt to serve Defendant by certified mail, the U.S. Marshal served the complaint and summons on Sergeant Basso of the Penobscot County Jail, when Defendant was "not at work." (Process Receipt and Return, ECF No. 10.)

On January 13, 2016, when Defendant did not file a response to Plaintiff's complaint, Plaintiff requested the entry of a default. (ECF No. 18.) The Clerk entered Defendant's default on the docket on January 16, 2016. (ECF No. 19.) On February 25, 2016, presumably in response to the Court's Order to Show Cause (ECF No. 20), Plaintiff filed the pending Motion for Default Judgment (ECF No. 22).[1]

Before entering a default judgment, a court has an affirmative duty to assure itself that it has jurisdiction over both the subject matter and the parties.[2] Daynard v. Ness, Motley, Loadholt, Richardson & Poole, P.A., 290 F.3d 42, 50 (1st Cir. 2002) ("To hear a case, a court must have personal jurisdiction over the parties, that is, the power to require the parties to obey its decrees.'" (quoting United States v. Swiss Am. Bank, Ltd., 191 F.3d 30, 35 (1st Cir. 1999))). "It is common ground that a judgment rendered in the absence of personal jurisdiction is a nullity." Vazquez-Robles v. CommoLoCo, Inc., 757 F.3d 1, 4 (1st Cir. 2014). Ordinarily, in a civil action, effective service of process is necessary for a court to obtain jurisdiction over the person of a defendant. Id. Indeed, when the service requirements set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4 are not satisfied, a default judgment is void. Perez Lopez v. Mangome, 117 F.R.D. 327, 328 (D.P.R. 1987). A court, therefore, may raise and act upon defects in service sua sponte when asked to enter a default judgment. Shaw v. 500516 N.B. Ltd., No. 1:09-cv-00264, 2009 WL 2184953, at *1 (D. Me. July 21, 2009) (ordering "Plaintiff's counsel within ten days of the date of this Order to file additional documentation to establish the bases for his statements that Attorney Lawrence Lunn is the authorized and designated agent for 500516 N.B. LTD"); see also Habyarimana v. Kagame, 821 F.Supp.2d 1244, 1249 (W.D. Okla. 2011) ("Once the plaintiffs obtained the Clerk's Entry of Default and moved for default judgment, there arose an affirmative duty on the part of the Court, to investigate its jurisdiction over both the parties and the subject matter."); D'Onofrio v. Il Mattino, 430 F.Supp.2d 431, 438 (E.D. Pa. 2006) ("[A]s part of determining whether it has personal jurisdiction over a defaulting defendant, the court must inquire as to whether there was sufficient service of process.").

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4, which sets forth the service of process requirements, provides that a defendant in a civil action in federal court such as Defendant Wintle may be served by:

(1) 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; or
(2) doing any of the following:
(A) delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to the individual personally;
(B) 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
(C) delivering a copy of each to an agent authorized by appointment or by law to ...

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