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Reimer v. The County of Snohomish

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

May 11, 2018



          The Honorable Richard A. Jones, United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Quash Service and to Dismiss. Dkt. # 16. Plaintiff opposes the motion. Dkt. # 18. For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants Snohomish County Fire District # 1 (“Fire District”) and Fire Chief Brad Reading, in his individual and official capacity, for federal and state discrimination claims and emotional distress. Dkt. # 1 (Complaint). Plaintiff has been represented by counsel since commencing the lawsuit. Nonetheless, Plaintiff did not properly serve Defendants with the Complaint and Summons, and the Court issued an order to show cause why it should not dismiss the claims for failure to serve. Dkt. # 4. Plaintiff, through her attorneys, responded to the order to show cause and committed to properly serving Defendants. Dkt. # 9.

         To serve Mr. Reading, Plaintiff served the Washington State Attorney General, Dkt. # 10, and Mr. Reading's administrative assistant, Dkt. # 11. Plaintiff did not file any affidavits of service of summons and complaint that directly addressed the Fire District. Weeks after Defendants filed this motion and well after its noting date, Plaintiff asked the clerk to issue summons on the Fire District. Dkt. # 20. The clerk electronically issued summons to the Fire District but no response from the Fire District has been recorded. Dkt. # 21.


         Defendants seek dismissal pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(5) and 12(b)(6). It is axiomatic that the court cannot exercise jurisdiction over a defendant without proper service of process. See Murphy Bros., Inc. v. Michetti Pipe Stringing, Inc., 526 U.S. 344, 350 (1999); S.E.C. v. Ross, 504 F.3d 1130, 1138-39 (9th Cir. 2007) (“[I]n the absence of proper service of process, the district court has no power to render any judgment against the defendant's person or property unless the defendant has consented to jurisdiction or waived lack of process.”).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(5) allows a defendant to move to dismiss an action where service of process of a summons and complaint is insufficient. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(5). Once a defendant challenges service of process, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the validity of service of process under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4. Brockmeyer v. May, 383 F.3d 798, 801 (9th Cir. 2004).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a court to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The rule requires the court to assume the truth of the complaint's factual allegations and credit all reasonable inferences arising from those allegations. Sanders v. Brown, 504 F.3d 903, 910 (9th Cir. 2007). A court “need not accept as true conclusory allegations that are contradicted by documents referred to in the complaint.” Manzarek v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 519 F.3d 1025, 1031 (9th Cir. 2008). The plaintiff must point to factual allegations that “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 568 (2007). If the plaintiff succeeds, the complaint avoids dismissal if there is “any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint” that would entitle the plaintiff to relief. Id. at 563; Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

         A court typically cannot consider evidence beyond the four corners of the complaint, although it may rely on a document to which the complaint refers if the document is central to the party's claims and its authenticity is not in question. Marder v. Lopez, 450 F.3d 445, 448 (9th Cir. 2006). A court may also consider evidence subject to judicial notice. United States v. Ritchie, 342 F.3d 903, 908 (9th Cir. 2003).


         A. Failure to properly serve the Fire District and Mr. Reading

         The Fire District is a government entity that must be served pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(j)(2). Rule 4(j)(2) requires Plaintiff to serve the Fire District by either (1) serving the chief executive officer, or (2) serving “in the manner prescribed by that state's law for serving a summons or like process on such a defendant.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(j)(2). In Washington, plaintiffs suing a fire district must serve “the superintendent or commissioner thereof or by leaving the same in his or her office with an assistant superintendent, deputy commissioner, or business manager during normal business hours.” Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 4.28.080. As an initial matter, Plaintiff did not direct any summons to the fire district. Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(a)(1) (requiring summons to be directed to the defendant). She only directed summons to Mr. Reading. However, even if she had directed summons to the fire district, she did not serve any entity listed in RCW § 4.28.080.

         Plaintiff is suing Chief Reading in both his individual and official capacity, but she failed to effectuate proper service either way. To serve Mr. Reading in his official capacity, Plaintiff needed to serve the Fire District, which she failed to do properly. To serve Mr. Reading in his individual capacity, Plaintiff needed to ...

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