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Ruiz v. State

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

January 22, 2018

GENARO RUIZ, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF RHODE ISLAND; RHODE ISLAND STATE POLICE, CITY OF CENTRAL FALLS, by and through its Director of Finance, Cynthia Dejesus, alias; HERBERT D. TILSON, alias, PETER DUHAMEL, alias, DEREK MELFI, alias, and CHRIS SCHRAM, alias, each individually and in his official capacity as an officer of the Central Falls Police Department; STEVEN O'DONNELL, alias, in his official capacity as the Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and the Commissioner of the Rhode Island Department of Public Safet Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          William E. Smith, Chief Judge

         Before the Court is Plaintiff Genaro Ruiz's Motion for Default Judgment or in the Alternative for an Extension of Time to Effectuate Service (ECF No. 35). Ruiz asks the Court to enter a default judgment against Defendants Herbert D. Tilson, Derek Melfi, and Chris Schram (“Defendants”), in their individual capacities, for failure to respond to the complaint. The Rhode Island Attorney General (“RIAG”), who represents Defendants in their official capacities as police officers, argues that the motion should be denied because Ruiz failed to serve Defendants in their individual capacities.

         Although Ruiz indeed failed to properly serve Defendants in their individual capacities, and has not shown good cause for this failure, the Court exercises its discretion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m) to allow Ruiz thirty days from the date of this order to effect proper service of Defendants.

         I. Background

         Ruiz filed his complaint in this action on September 9, 2016, two days before the statute of limitations was set to expire on his claims.[1] Ruiz subsequently served the complaint on the RIAG. The summons generated by the Court for each of the Defendants was directed to each “[i]individually and in his official capacity as an officer in the Rhode Island State Police.” (See, e.g., Tilson Summons, ECF No. 6.) Assistant Attorney General Michael W. Field accepted service on behalf of the Defendants, but noted on the summonses that he was doing so for the Defendants “in [their] official capacity only.” (See, e.g., id.)

         Ruiz filed the signed summonses on November 15, 2016. Soon thereafter attorneys at the RIAG entered appearances for Defendants, but noted, as Mr. Field had, that they did so only in Defendants' respective official capacities. The RIAG attorneys similarly noted the limits of their representation in their answer. For some time, Ruiz seemingly thought nothing of the fact that the RIAG clearly took the position that it represented Defendants in their official capacities only.

         Ruiz claims to have first realized that the RIAG's position represented a potential problem for him at a deposition on June 28, 2017, when an RIAG attorney made what Ruiz calls “overt mention” of the RIAG's understanding that it was representing Defendants only in their official capacities. And indeed the RIAG now argues that this problem is far from potential - that because Ruiz failed to properly effect service on Defendants in their individual capacities, not only does the Court lack jurisdiction to enter the default Ruiz requests, but any attempt to rectify this jurisdictional problem by filing a new suit is now barred by the statute of limitations.

         II. Discussion

         In order for this Court to exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant, he “must be served in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 4.” Echevarria-Gonzalez v. Gonzalez-Chapel, 849 F.2d 24, 28 (1st Cir. 1988) (“Actual notice and simply naming the person in the caption of the complaint is insufficient to subject a defendant to the jurisdiction of [this Court].”). Rule 4(e) states that an individual may be served by any of the following:

(A)delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to the individual personally;
(B)leaving a copy of each at the individual's dwelling or usual place of abode with someone of suitable age and discretion who resides there; or
(C)delivering a copy of each to an agent authorized by appointment or by law to receive service of process.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(e)(2)(A)-(C).

         The Rule also states that service may be effectuated in accordance with the law of the state wherein the federal district is located. Id. at 4(e)(1). But because Rhode Island law does not sanction individual service in ways other than those mentioned ...


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