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Williams v. Ware Youth Center Coushatta

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Alexandria Division

January 2, 2019


          DRELL JUDGE



         Defendants Ware Youth Center (“Ware”), Darqwiez Murphy (“Murphy”), and Raymond Lloyd (“Lloyd”) filed a Motion to Dismiss for Insufficiency of Service, Improper Venue, and Lack of Standing and, alternatively, a Motion for a More Definite Statement (Doc. 7). Because service was effected by the United States Marshal's Service (“USMS”), Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 7) for lack of proper served should be denied, the Motion to Dismiss for improper venue should be denied, and the Motion to Dismiss for lack of standing should be granted as to Williams. However, Defendants' alternative request to transfer venue to the Shreveport Division (Doc. 7) should be granted.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Ladarian Jackson (“Jackson”), through his appointed tutrix, Tracy Williams (“Williams”), filed a pro se civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in forma pauperis. The named defendants are Ware (a juvenile detention center and group home located in Coushatta, Red River Parish, Louisiana), unknown John Does employed at Ware, Murphy (employed at Ware), and Lloyd (a warden, administrative agent, or employee of Ware).

         Jackson contends that, when he was confined in Ware, [1] he was beaten and injured by Murphy in the presence of another guard. Jackson contends he sustained “open wound bruises, ” and mental and emotional injuries. Jackson contends Ware, as Murphy's employer, is liable for the injuries caused by Murphy under the theory of respondeat superior. Jackson contends that Williams complained to Lloyd about Jackson's injuries. Lloyd told Williams he had reviewed the video tapes of the incident and would “press unspecified ‘charges' against Plaintiff Jackson if this type event occurred again.” Lloyd refused to allow Williams or Jackson to view the videotape. Jackson further contends he was denied medical care for his resulting headaches and neck pain. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages (including punitive damages), attorney's fees, costs, and injunctive relief.

         Defendants Ware, Murphy, and Lloyd filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 7), alleging: (1) improper service; (2) improper venue; and (3) that Williams lacks standing to file suit on behalf of Jackson. Defendants also move for a more definite statement and a transfer to the Shreveport Division (Doc. 7).

         Counsel then enrolled for Plaintiff and filed a “Motion to Amend Complaint and Transfer Venue” (Doc. 19).

         II. Law and Analysis

         A. Service of process on Defendants by the USMS was sufficient.

         First, Defendants contend the complaint should be dismissed for failure to effect sufficient service of process. Defendants contend they became aware of this suit when “the summons and an unsigned, unverified copy of the complaint” were addressed only to the “Ware Youth Center” and delivered by certified mail (Doc. 7-1). Defendants complain that Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(j)(2)[2] was not complied with.

         Where a pro se litigant proceeding in forma pauperis timely and correctly requests service by the USMS, and the defendant has actual notice of the suit, the interests of justice are best served by allowing the litigants to rely upon the service ultimately effected by the USMS, even if it is untimely or improper. See Rochon v. Dawson, 828 F.2d 1107, 1109 (5th Cir. 1987) (citing Romandette v. Weetabix Co., Inc., 807 F.2d 309 (2d Cir. 1986)); see also Lindsey v. U.S.R.R. Retirement Bd., 101 F.3d 444 (5th Cir. 1996); Byrd v. Stone, 94 F.3d 217 (5th Cir. 1996). Where there is no prejudice to the defendant, the plaintiff should not be penalized for the failure of the USMS to properly effect service of process where such failure is through no fault of the plaintiff. See Lee v. Henderson, 75 F.Supp.2d 591, 595 (E.D. Tex. 1999) (citing Rochon); see also Triplett v. LeBlanc, 642 Fed.Appx. 457, 460 (5th Cir. 2016), cert. den., 137 S.Ct. 192 (U.S. 2018); Flander v. Kforce, Inc., 526 Fed.Appx. 364, 368 (5th Cir. 2013); Hurlburt v. Zaunbrecher, 169 F.R.D. 258, 259 (N.D.N.Y. 1996). As the court in Hurlburt stated, "[R]equiring the Marshal's Service to personally serve defendants who admit to having actual notice of the case against them is the ultimate in exalting form over substance" and amounts to a "dog in the manger" tactic. Hurlburt, 169 F.R.D. at 259. Moreover, "the Marshal's Service has limited manpower and resources available for serving process in in forma pauperis actions" and "it can barely keep up with the myriad requests it receives to serve defendants in such actions by mail. As a result, a coordinated effort by individuals who are frequently sued by IFP plaintiffs (for example, corrections officers) to demand service in strict compliance with Rule 4(e) could literally bring prisoner civil rights litigation to a standstill." Hurlburt, 169 F.R.D. at 259 n. 2.

         Even if this Court were to order new service, [3] the USMS is required by this court to mail waiver of service forms to the defendants prior to personally serving defendants. If defendants do not waive service, defendants are assessed the costs of service. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(d).

         This case involves a (then) pro se plaintiff who is proceeding in forma pauperis ("IFP") and who, under well-settled case law, is entitled to rely on the USMS to effect proper service. Defendants have not alleged prejudice or lack of notice arising from improper service. Therefore, Defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to effect proper service (Doc. 7) should be denied.

         B. Defendants' Motion to Transfer Venue should be granted.

         Defendants contend this case should be dismissed or transferred to the Shreveport Division due to improper venue. It is noted that, in their Motion to Transfer Venue, [4] Plaintiffs consent to have ...

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