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Munger v. Social Security Administration

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

July 3, 2019

MATTHEW MUNGER, Plaintiff,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT, VACATING ORDER OF DEFAULT, AND TO SHOW CAUSE

          JAMES L. ROBART UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the court is Plaintiff Matthew Munger's motion for default judgment against Defendant Social Security Administration (“SSA”). (MDJ (Dkt. # 9).) The court has reviewed the motion, relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law. Being fully advised, the court DENIES the motion. In addition, the court VACATES its prior order declaring SSA in default. (See Order of Default (Dkt. # 7).)

         II. BACKGROUND

         On January 4, 2019, Mr. Munger filed a complaint against SSA alleging that SSA violated the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552. (See generally Compl. (Dkt. # 1).) He seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, along with an award of reasonable attorney's fees and litigation costs. (Id. ¶¶ 7.1-7.6.)

         On January 9, 2019, Mr. Munger filed a proof of service of process declaration. (Proof of Service (Dkt. # 5).) The declarant states that, pursuant to 20 C.F.R § 423.1, she mailed Mr. Munger's summons and complaint “via First Class USPS [United States Postal Service] certified return receipt mail to: SSA, Room 617, Altmeyer Bldg., 6401 Security Blvd., Baltimore, MD 21235.” (Id. at 2.)

         On April 16, 2019, Mr. Munger filed a motion for default against SSA. (Default Mot. (Dkt. # 6).) On the same day, the court granted Mr. Munger's motion and entered default against SSA. (Default Order (Dkt. # 7).) On June 21, 2019, Mr. Munger moved for the entry of default judgment. (See MDJ.) The court now considers that motion.

         III. ANALYSIS

         The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has stated that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55 requires a “two-step process” for entering default judgment, consisting of: (1) the clerk's entry of default, and (2) a motion for entry of default judgment. Eitel v. McCool, 782 F.2d 1470, 1471 (9th Cir .1986) (“Eitel apparently fails to understand the two-step process required by Rule 55.”); Symantec Corp. v. Global Impact, Inc., 559 F.3d 922, 923 (9th Cir. 2009) (noting “the two-step process of ‘Entering a Default' and ‘Entering a Default Judgment'”); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 55; Local Rules W.D. Wash. LCR 55(b)(1) (“No motion for judgment by default should be entered against any party unless the court has previously granted a motion for default against that party pursuant to LCR 55(a) or unless default otherwise has been entered.”).

         In evaluating Mr. Munger's motion for default judgment, the court reexamined the adequacy of Mr. Munger's service of process in this suit. The burden of proof to establish proper service of process rests on the plaintiff. See Brockmeyer v. May, 383 F.3d 798, 801 (9th Cir. 2004) (“Once service is challenged, plaintiffs bear the burden of establishing that service was valid under Rule 4.”); Sawez Rivera v. Nissan Mfg. Co., 788 F.2d 819, 821 n.2 (1st Cir. 1986).

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(i)(2), to serve an agency of the United States such as SSA, “a party must serve the United States and also send a copy of the summons and of the complaint by registered or certified mail to the agency . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(i)(2). Under Rule 4(i)(1), to serve the United States, a party must:

(A)(i) deliver a copy of the summons and of the complaint to the United States attorney for the district where the action is brought-or to an assistant United States attorney or clerical employee whom the United States attorney designates in a writing filed with the court clerk-or
(ii) send a copy of each by registered or certified mail to the civil-process clerk at the United States attorney's office;
(B) send a copy of each by registered or certified mail to the Attorney General of the United States at ...

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