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Clark v. AT&T Corporation

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

November 12, 2013

SHARON DENISE CLARK, Plaintiff,
v.
AT&T CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ALEXANDER WILLIAMS, Jr., District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Defendants AT&T Mobility Services, LLC ("AT&T")[1] and Karen Holton's Motion to Dismiss. Doc. No. 6. The Court has reviewed the record and deems a hearing unnecessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss will be GRANTED-IN-PART. The Motion will be GRANTED with respect to Defendant Holton for lack of personal jurisdiction. With respect to AT&T, the Court will treat Defendants' Motion as one to quash service, GRANT the motion, and give Plaintiff another opportunity to effectuate service of process on AT&T.

I. BACKGROUND

On August 6, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Title VII discrimination claim against AT&T and its employee Karen Holton alleging that they discriminated against her on the basis of religion. Doc. No. 1. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that during a May 16, 2012 telephone interview, she informed an AT&T employee that she would be unable to work on Saturdays for religious reasons, and was advised to "call back when that changes." Id. at 3. On May 17, 2012, Plaintiff filed charges against AT&T with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), from whom she received a right to sue letter on June 20, 2013. Id.

On the same day Plaintiff filed her Complaint, she also filed a motion to proceed in forma pauperis, which was granted by an Order of this Court on August 13, 2013. Doc. No. 3. In that Order, Plaintiff was provided with information regarding the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation's website through which she was advised to obtain the name and service address of AT&T's registered agent in Maryland. Id. The Clerk of the Court further instructed her to submit a U.S. Marshal service of process form so that the U.S. Marshal could "effectuate service of process on Defendants at the address provided by Plaintiff." Id. Plaintiff instructed the U.S. Marshal to serve the Summons and Complaint against both Defendants to Holton, an Alabama resident, at AT&T's Birmingham, Alabama office. Doc. No. 4. In their pending motion, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed because (1) Plaintiff has failed to properly effectuate service of process on AT&T, (2) the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Holton, and (3) Plaintiff has failed to state a claim against Holton.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to Effectuate Service of Process under Rule 12(b)(5)

A defendant may challenge the sufficiency of service of process under Rule 12(b)(5) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. O'Meara v. Waters, 464 F.Supp.2d 474, 476 (D. Md. 2006). Once challenged, the burden of establishing validity of service under Rule 4 shifts to the plaintiff. Id. In cases where service of process has given a defendant actual notice of the claim against it, courts may adopt a liberal interpretation of Rule 4, uphold the service, and maintain the court's jurisdiction over the claim. Id. However, the "plain requirements for the means of effecting service of process may not be ignored." Id. Thus, if plaintiff has failed to effectuate service under the meaning of Rule 4, the court may either dismiss the complaint or quash service and allow the plaintiff to attempt service again. Lipscomb v. Techs., Servs. & Info., Inc., No. DKC 09-3344, 2011 U.S. Dist. Lexis 16692, at *6 (D. Md. Feb. 18, 2011) (citing Vorhees v. Fischer & Krecke, 697 F.2d 574, 576 (4th Cir. 1983)).

B. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2)

When non-resident defendants challenge the court's power to exercise personal jurisdiction over them pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "the jurisdictional question is to be resolved by the judge, with the burden on the plaintiff ultimately to prove grounds for jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence." Carefirst of Md., Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy Ctrs., Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 396 (4th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). If the existence of jurisdiction turns on disputed factual questions, the court may resolve the motion on the basis of an evidentiary hearing. See Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989). However, if the court rules on the motion without conducting an evidentiary hearing, "the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction." Carefirst, 334 F.3d at 396; see also CoStar Realty Info., Inc. v. Field, 612 F.Supp.2d 660, 667 (D. Md. 2009) (citations omitted). "In deciding whether the plaintiff has made the requisite showing, the court must take all disputed facts and reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Carefirst, 334 F.3d at 396 (citation omitted).

III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Service of Process on AT&T

Under Rule 4(h)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "a corporation... must be served... (A) in a manner prescribed by Rule 4(e)(1) for serving an individual; or (B) by delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to an officer, a managing or general agent, or any other agent authorized by appointment or by law to receive service of process." Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(h)(1). Rule 4(e)(1) permits service by "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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(e)(1). Under Maryland law,

Service is made upon a corporation... by serving its resident agent, president, secretary, or treasurer. If the corporation... has no resident agent or if a good faith attempt to serve the resident agent, president, secretary, or treasurer has failed, service may be made by serving the manager, any director, vice president, assistant secretary, assistant ...

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