Chen v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, Maryland

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Procedure
  • Date Filed: November 7, 2014
  • Case #: 13-10400
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Court Below: Unpublished (4th Cir. 2013)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m), a district court has discretion to extend the time for service of process absent a showing of good cause.

Petitioner’s home was demolished to conceal the damage caused by the demolition of an adjacent property owned by the city. Petitioner was denied notice and the opportunity for a hearing prior to the demolition. Respondents’ actions violated both state law and the U.S. Constitution.

Petitioner filed a complaint pro se. Due to confusion and miscommunication, Respondent was not served as planned. Petitioner, while still within the 120 days provided by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m), moved for a “good cause” extension of the time to serve process. The District Court granted an additional 60 days, within which Respondent was properly served.

Before Respondent answered the complaint, the presiding judge retired. Instead of filing an answer, Respondent moved to vacate the extension granted by the previous judge. The order was vacated and the case dismissed. Petitioner appealed and the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed without explanation or analysis.

Petitioner argues that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m) requires a court to extend the 120 period for service if the plaintiff shows good cause for the delay. Here, the delay was not his creation. When he learned that he would not receive the summons the day he filed, but later in the mail, he requested the U.S. Marshals to serve process for him. Having never received the summons by mail, he assumed the Marshals had served process for him. Petitioner also points to a split among the circuits on the question of whether a District Court has discretion to extend the 120 days without a showing of good cause.

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