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Hall v. Morales

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

December 16, 2014

DEMETRIUS HALL, Plaintiff,
v.
JULIO JAVIER MORALES, et al., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION[1]

PAUL W. GRIMM, District Judge.

Plaintiff filed this action in state court four days shy of the statute of limitations, but did not serve Defendants until several months later, after he was warned by the court that the failure to effect service could subject this case to dismissal. Plaintiff moved to delay the dismissal and requested the issuance of new summonses, both of which were granted. Plaintiff then served Defendants, who promptly removed to this Court. Defendants seek to dismiss this case under Maryland Rule 2-507(b) because of Plaintiff's delay in effecting service. Because I find that the state court granted Plaintiff an extension of time to serve Defendants, and that Plaintiff then timely served Defendants before the extended deadline, I deny the motion.

I. BACKGROUND

This civil action arises out of a motor vehicle collision (the "Collision") in Laurel, Maryland on August 27, 2010, in which a vehicle allegedly driven by Defendant Julio Javier Morales collided with a vehicle being driven by Plaintiff Demetrius Hall, causing injuries to Hall. Compl. ¶¶ 1-5, ECF No. 2. At the time of the Collision, the vehicle driven by Morales was owned by Defendant Penske Truck Leasing Co., L.P. ("Penske Leasing"), and Morales was acting as an agent of an unknown company sued under the fictitious name of John Doe Co. ("Doe Co."). Compl. ¶¶ 10, 15. In an affidavit affixed to his motion to dismiss, Morales identifies his employer at the time as Penske Logistics, LLC ("Penske Logistics"). Morales Aff. ¶ 3, Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summ. J. Ex. 4, ECF No. 8-4.

On August 23, 2013-two years and 361 days after the Collision, see Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-101 (three-year statute of limitations for civil actions)-Hall filed his threecount complaint in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County alleging (I) negligence by Morales; (II) vicarious liability against Doe Co.; and (III) vicarious liability against Penske Leasing. Compl. The Clerk of the Circuit Court issued summonses for both named Defendants, Morales Summons, Pl.'s R. 103.5 Cert. Ex. 3, ECF No. 10-3; Penske Leasing Summons, Pl.'s R. 103.5 Cert. Ex. 4, ECF No. 10-4, but those summonses never were served, Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summ. J., and Other Relief ("Def.'s Opp'n") ¶ 2, ECF No. 11. It does not appear that Hall or his counsel took any action at all with respect to this case between issuance of the summonses in August 2013 and February 2014.

On January 29, 2014, the Clerk of the Circuit Court sent Plaintiff's counsel a Notification to Parties of Contemplated Dismissal, advising him that, unless a motion showing good cause was filed within thirty days, this case would be dismissed pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-507(b) for failure to effect service within 120 days of filing the complaint. Notification to Parties of Contemplated Dismissal, Pl.'s R. 103.5 Cert. Ex. 5, ECF No. 10-5. One week later, on February 6, 2014, Hall filed a Motion to Defer Entry of Dismissal and Other Relief, Pl.'s 103.5 Cert. Ex. 6, ECF No. 10-6, in the circuit court along with a Line, Pl.'s 103.5 Cert. Ex. 7, ECF No. 10-7, seeking reissuance of the summonses for Morales and Penske Leasing. New summonses were issued that same day. 2d Morales Summons, Pl.'s 103.5 Cert. Ex. 8, ECF No. 10-8; 2d Penske Leasing Summons, Pl.'s 103.5 Cert. Ex. 9, ECF No. 10-9.

Defendants were served with process by certified mail on February 24, 2014. Notice of Removal ¶ 1, ECF No. 1. On March 12, 2014, an order was entered in the circuit court deferring dismissal of this case, setting a status hearing for late April 2014, and advising counsel that "[i]f counsel gets service and an answer is filed, plaintiff may write [Civil Coordinating Judge Leo E. Green, Jr.] to take the matter off the docket for the April hearing date." Mem. and Order of the Court, Pl.'s R. 103.5 Cert. Ex. 11, ECF No. 10-11.

On March 26, 2014, Defendants removed to this Court, Notice of Removal, and on April 1, 2014, they filed their Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment ("Defs.' Mot."), ECF No. 8.[2] Hall filed his opposition on April 29, 2014, Pl.'s Opp'n-outside of the time provided by Local Rule 105.2(a)[3]-and Defendants have replied, Defs.' Reply to Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Reply"), ECF No. 12. Having reviewed the filings, I find a hearing is not required. Loc. R. 105.6.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for "the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Velencia v. Drezhlo, No. RDB-12-237, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2012). This rule's purpose "is to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.'" Id. (quoting Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006)). To that end, the Court bears in mind the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), when considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Specifically, a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and must state "a plausible claim for relief, " as "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice, " Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79. See Velencia, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (discussing standard from Iqbal and Twombly ). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663.

That said, "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above a speculative level.'" Proctor v. Metro. Money Store Corp., 645 F.Supp.2d 464, 472-73 (D. Md. 2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545). Particularly, the Court is not required to accept as true "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, " Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986), or "allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact or unreasonable inferences, " Veney v. Wyche, 293 F.3d 726, 730 (4th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). Additionally, a plaintiff fails to state a claim where the allegations on the face of the complaint show that an affirmative defense would bar any recovery. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 214-15 (2007) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(c)); see Brooks v. City of Winston-Salem, 85 F.3d 178, 181 (4th Cir. 1996) (noting that dismissal is proper "when the face of the complaint clearly reveals the existence of a meritorious affirmative defense").

III. DISCUSSION

A. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

Defendants argue that this case should be dismissed as a result of Hall's unexcused delay in serving them with process. It is "well-settled that state law governs the sufficiency and service of process before removal." Eccles v. Nat'l Semiconductor Corp., 10 F.Supp.2d 514, 519 (D. Md. 1998) (citations omitted). ...


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