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Scanlan v. Townsend

Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc

November 6, 2014

Theresa Scanlan, Respondent
v.
Karlin Townsend et al., Petitioners

Argued October 2, 2014

Michael E. Abrahamson and Jill R. Skinner (of Hollenbeck, Lancaster, Miller & Andrews ), for petitioners.

Thomas E. Jacobs, G. Parker Reich, and Kyle D. Drinnon (of Jacobs & Jacobs ), for respondent.

AUTHOR: Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud. WE CONCUR: Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen, Justice Charles W. Johnson, Justice Susan Owens, Justice Mary E. Fairhurst, Justice Debra L. Stephens, Justice Charles K. Wiggins, Justice Steven C. González, Justice Mary I. Yu.

OPINION

Page 1156

Sheryl Gordon McCloud, J.

[181 Wn.2d 840] [¶1] After Theresa Scanlan filed a personal injury action against Karlin Townsend, [1] a process [181 Wn.2d 841] server delivered a copy of the summons and complaint to Townsend's father at his home. But Townsend did not live at her father's home. Townsend's father later handed the summons and complaint directly to Townsend within the statute of limitations.

[¶2] The trial court dismissed for lack of service, and the Court of Appeals reversed. Scanlan v. Townsend, 178 Wn.App. 609, 315 P.3d 594 (2013). We granted review of Townsend's claim that Scanlan failed to comply with RCW 4.28.080(15), which requires serving a copy of the summons " to the defendant personally, or by leaving a copy of the summons at the house of his or her usual abode with some person of suitable age and discretion then resident therein." Scanlan v. Townsend, 180 Wn.2d 1008, 325 P.3d 914 (2014). Because Scanlan establishes effective personal service on Townsend, we affirm the Court of Appeals.

FACTS

[¶3] On October 28, 2008, Scanlan and Townsend were involved in a car accident in Federal Way, Washington. Clerk's Papers (CP) at 1-2. On October 27, 2011, Scanlan filed a personal injury action against Townsend. Id.

[¶4] On November 8, 2011, Scanlan asked ABC Investigations to locate Townsend's current residential address. CP at 37. ABC conducted a records search and identified two addresses--one in Puyallup, Washington, and one in Vancouver, Washington. Id. The Puyallup address " appear[ed] on a[ ] [Social Security number]/Address trace for the Defendant reported 05/2011. The United States Postal Service confirms mail delivery

Page 1157

for the Defendant at this address." Id. Court records identified a particular Vancouver, Washington, address as Townsend's address " as of 10/04/2010." Id. This address " appear[ed] on a[ ] [Social Security number]/Address trace for the Defendant reported between 1991 and 2009." Id. And Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) records showed this address for [181 Wn.2d 842] Townsend " as of 07/25/2007." Id. Clark County tax assessor records listed Townsend's father, Charles William Pyne, " with whom the Defendant has resided in the past, as the current owner of the real property at [the Vancouver] address." Id. The DOL record showed a vehicle registered to Townsend with her father listed as a co-owner. Id.

[¶5] An ABC process server tried to serve a copy of the summons and complaint upon Townsend at the Puyallup address on December 8, 2011. Id. The resident at this address told the process server that he did not know Townsend. Id.

[¶6] Almost two weeks later, the process server tried to serve a copy of the summons and complaint upon Townsend at the Vancouver address. Id. The process server's declaration of service states that on December 21, 2011, the process server delivered two copies of the summons and complaint at a specified address in " VANCOUVER, Clark County, WA," to someone he described as " Bill White, CO-RESIDENT ... a person of suitable age and discretion who stated they reside at the defendant's/respondent's usual place of abode listed above." CP at 3 (boldface omitted).

[¶7] Townsend therefore moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of service on March 15, 2012. CP at 4-9. To support this motion, Townsend filed a declaration stating that she had lived at the Puyallup address from March 2011 to October 2011 and had lived in Auburn since October 2011. CP at 11. She stated that the Vancouver address " is my parents['] address and I have not resided there since 1991. I have not used this address as my usual abode for any reason since then. I would visit my parents at their address 2-3 times a year." Id. Townsend also stated, " My usual abode at the time of attempted service was my home at [a specified address in] Auburn, Washington." Id.

[¶8] In opposition to Townsend's motion to dismiss, Scanlan submitted a declaration from an ABC investigator explaining the efforts to locate Townsend's residential address. [181 Wn.2d 843] CP at 37. She also submitted an amended declaration of service from the process server, stating,

On the 21st day of December, 2011, at approximately 4:40 PM, I arrived at the address of ... VANCOUVER, Clark County, WA. ... I knocked on the front door and a gray-haired white male ... opened the door ... . I asked him if Karlin Townsend was there and he replied she was not. I recall saying I had some paperwork for her and asking him if she lived there and he respond[ed] that she was staying there. He was very talkative and friendly, and I do believe I recall him also mentioning Karlin came back to live with us. I told him that I had some paperwork for her and this was the address I was given, I then asked if I could leave the documents with him. He replied he would take the documents and make sure she got them when she gets back. When I asked his name, he put out his hand to shake, said he was her father, and to the best of my knowledge I thought he said his name was Bill White. I shook his hand as I gave him my name, and then left.
On the 21st day of December, 2011, at 4:49 PM, at the [same address specified above in] VANCOUVER, Clark County, WA ... this declarant served the above described documents upon KARLIN TOWNSEND and JOHN DOE TOWNSEND by then and there personally delivering 2 true and correct copy(ies) thereof, by then presenting to and leaving the same with John Doe, CO-RESIDENT/FATHER, a gray-haired white male ..., a person of suitable age and discretion who stated they reside at the defendant's/respondent's usual place of abode listed above.

CP at 45 (boldface omitted).

[¶9] Scanlan claimed that she established effective service on Townsend through substitute service of process because the process server " left a copy of the summons and complaint

Page 1158

at the Defendant's usual abode with the defendant's father, a person of suitable age and discretion, who also resided at that house." CP at 25. Scanlan asked the court to deny Townsend's motion to dismiss or, alternatively, to conduct an evidentiary hearing or continue the hearing on the motion to conduct discovery. Id. The trial court reserved [181 Wn.2d 844] its ruling on the motion. Verbatim Report of Proceedings (VRP) (July 13, 2012) at 17-18.

[¶10] Later, in a deposition, Townsend testified that her father delivered the summons and complaint to her at the end of December 2011 or in early January 2012 but did not specify exactly how he served her:

Q. ... Did -- did you get documents from your dad?
A. They told me that they were there.
Q. Well, when this all occurred, December of 2011, what were you doing? Were you employed at that point?
A. I was working.
Q. Okay. And living where?
A. In Seattle, up here.
Q. Were you visiting your parents often during that ...

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