Monday, October 12, 2009

My Service To You

I read Rodrogue, so you don't have to.

United States v. Rodrogue involves a technical issue in which the United States attempted to cure defective service on the defendant. Service is the means by which a defendant is notified of a claim against it. If service is not made properly, the Court does not have jurisdiction. In this case, the US sought leave of the Court to extend the 120-day service period by an additional 90 days and to permit service by public notice. Public notice service is based on the legal fiction that people actually read the legal notices buried in the back of the newspaper.

The gist of the facts is that Customs repeatedly tried to serve the defendant's at the wrong addresses. One defendant was finally served, but after the statute of limitations and the 120-day period for service had run. The other defendant was never served. The upshot is that the United States needed to show good cause for its failure to serve. If it does show good cause, the Court must grant the request. In this case, the Court found no good cause. In fact, the Court says that the government could not easily have done any less to effectively accomplish service. In the absence of good cause, the Court still has discretion whether or not to grant the motion. Given these facts, the Court declined to exercise that discretion and the motion for an extension was denied. Having denied the extension, the motion to permit service via public notice was moot.

Despite the mootness, the Court engaged in a thorough, detailed, searching analysis of the law surrounding service by publication. As a litigant, I might appreciate the effort and the thorough opinion. I can clearly see that a judge wants to be certain that no relevant legal principal or citation has been missed. But, as a regular customs lawyer reading this, it seems hard to get through 64 "Talmudic" pages and 119 footnotes for the proposition that the government really needs to use reasonably good efforts to serve defendants; otherwise, it risks having its case dismissed.

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