United States District Court, D. Maryland
XINIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court are Defendants Erika O'Neal and Dennis
Alexander's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter
Jurisdiction (ECF No. 8), Motion to Strike (ECF No. 16), and
Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction. ECF No.
17. The motions are fully briefed, and no hearing is
necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6. For the following
reasons, the Court denies each motion.
Ben, and Lois Waskey along with Linda Wootten (collectively
“Plaintiffs”) agreed to sell their business,
Regalmark Inc. (“Regalmark”) to Erika O'Neal
and her fiancé, Dennis Alexander
(“Defendants”). ECF No. 15 ¶ 10. The terms
of the sale were memorialized in a Promissory Note and Entity
Sales Agreement (“the Agreement”). ECF No. 15-1;
27-2. Defendants failed to make payments under the Promissory
Note's terms. ECF No. 15 ¶ 9-15.
the deal went south, Plaintiffs, appearing pro se, filed this
breach of contract action against Regalmark, O'Neal, and
Alexander. ECF No. 1. Defendants subsequently moved to
dismiss for lack of diversity jurisdiction because Plaintiffs
and Defendant Regalmark are Maryland citizens. ECF No. 8.
Plaintiffs amended the Complaint in response, suing only the
Virginia Defendants, O'Neal and Alexander, thereby
mooting the motion to dismiss. See ECF No. 15.
response to the Amended Complaint, Defendants now move to
strike the pleading or alternatively dismiss the claims for
lack of personal jurisdiction. ECF Nos. 16, 17. The Court
considers each motion separately.
Motion to Strike the Amended Complaint
urge the Court to strike the Amended Complaint because not
all of the pro se Plaintiffs signed the pleading. Although
Defendants invoke Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, the matter is properly before the Court under Rule
11(a) requires pro se parties to sign every paper and
“state the signer's address, e-mail address, and
telephone number.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(a). The purpose of
this signature requirement is to “prevent frivolous
filings and increas[e] the efficiency of courts.”
Pinpoint IT Services, L.L.C. v. Atlas IT Export
Corp., 802 F.Supp.2d 691, 693 (E.D. Va. 2011). The Rule
further provides that “[t]he court must strike an
unsigned paper unless the omission is promptly corrected
after being called to the attorney's or party's
attention.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(a). Accordingly, a pleading
will not be stricken unless the movant can show that a
failure to sign “‘severely prejudiced the
opposing party.'” Steamship Trade Ass'n of
Balt., Inc. v. Peters, No. WDQ 09-109, 2009 WL 2924810,
at *2 (D. Md. 2009) (quoting Kovilic Const. Co., Inc. v.
Missbrenner, 106 F.3d 768, 772 (7th Cir. 1997)). This
burden is even more exacting where, as here, the Plaintiffs
proceed pro se. See Fireman's Ins. Co. of Newark, New
Jersey v. Herbert, No. Civ.A. 4:04CV139, 2005 WL
3536091, at *2 (E.D. Va. Dec. 20, 2005) (Courts “do
not expect a pro se litigant to perfectly comply
with all procedural rules.”).
Defendants are incorrect that failure to sign the Amended
Complaint renders it void ab initio. See Holley Coal Co.
v. Globe Indem. Co., 186 F.2d 291, 295 (4th Cir. 1950)
(“[A]n unsigned pleading is not invalid.”);
U.S. v. Haynesworth, No. CRIM.A. 4:00-CR-52, 2004 WL
3091986, at *1 n.1 (E.D. Va. Feb. 11, 2004) (considering
motion by pro se party even though it was unsigned). Rather,
the Court retains discretion to accept the unsigned pleading
or to grant leave to cure the defect instead of striking the
complaint altogether. See, e.g., Dauphin v.
Jennings, No. 1:15-cv-149, 2017 WL 1745040, at *4 (E.D.
Va. May 3, 2017) (accepting the pleading because a refiling
would be “duplicative”); Butler v.
Johnson, No. 1:07cv1196 (GBL/TRJ), 2007 WL 4376135, at
*4 (E.D. Va. Dec. 12, 2007) (directing plaintiff to resubmit
a signed complaint). This Court will afford Plaintiffs the
chance to cure the deficiency.
Paul Waskey signed the Amended Complaint “[o]n behalf
of all Plaintiffs' [sic]” and included addresses,
emails, and telephone numbers only for the signatories.
However, all four Plaintiffs signed a certificate of
compliance with Rule 11, suggesting the omission was not
intentional but more the product of Plaintiffs' pro se
status. ECF No. 15 at 9. To cure the defect, Plaintiffs must
supplement the record with the mailing addresses, emails and
telephone numbers for Wooten and Lois Waskey no later than
21 days from the date of this Opinion and
next argue, without support, that the Court should strike the
Amended Complaint because only one of the four plaintiffs
signed the certificate of service. The purpose of a
certificate of service is to affirm that service was
effectuated properly. See U.S. v. Wright, No.
00-4030, 238 F.3d 418 (Table), 2000 WL 1846340, at *3 (4th
Cir. Dec. 18, 2000). Thus, when “actual service is not
contested, there is little point to invalidating an Amended
Complaint for lack of a certificate.” Ives v.
Guildford Mills, 3 F.Supp.2d 191, 195 (N.D.N.Y. 1998).
Defendants do not dispute that they have been served and so
no basis exists to strike the pleading. Cf. Conner v.
Duncan, 1:12CV92, 2013 WL 12136592, at *6 (M.D. N.C.
Mar. 27, 2013) (accepting a motion where the pro se party
only signed the certificate of service and did not sign the
motion). The motion is denied.
Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction
Court next turns to whether it retains personal jurisdiction
over Defendants. A court may not hear any claim against
parties for whom personal jurisdiction is lacking.
Lightfoot v. Cendant Mortg. Corp., 137 S.Ct. 553,
562 (2017). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(2), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing
personal jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence.
Carefirst of Maryland, Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy Ctrs.,
Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 396 (4th Cir. 2003). In deciding a
Rule 12(b)(2) motion, the court is “permitted to