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Buffalo Hogan, Inc. v. Greene

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

February 21, 2017

BUFFALO HOGAN, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
THERESA GREENE d/b/a Red Path and d/b/a Cherokee Visions, SOUTHWESTERN TREASURES, INC., PUEBLO DIRECT, INC., and DAVID SINGER, t/a OutWest Gifts, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING SERVICE BY PUBLICATION

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Service by Publication on Defendant David Singer (Doc. 41) and Corrected Exhibit C (Doc. 42). Having reviewed the Motion and relevant authorities, the Court finds that the Motion is not well-taken and will be denied without prejudice at this time.

         I. Background

         This is a copyright infringement action brought by Plaintiff, a designer and manufacturer of Native American headdresses. Doc. 35 (Second Amended Complaint) at ¶ 4. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant David Singer has purchased infringing headdresses from Defendant Southwest Treasures and then, in turn, sold those headdresses to customers throughout the United States. Id. ¶ 16.

         In its Motion, Plaintiff details various efforts it has made to locate and personally serve Defendant Singer. Doc. 41 at 1. Plaintiff first describes its efforts to discuss its allegations with Singer prior to filing its Second Amended Complaint naming him as a defendant. Id. This was done by two letters, sent on November 14 and 18, 2016. Docs. 41-1 & 41-2. The first letter was sent via federal express to Defendant Singer's residence, but was returned undelivered. Doc. 41-1. Plaintiff sent a second letter via first class mail to Defendant Singer's residential address and to a purported business address. Doc. 41-2. Defendant Singer did not respond to these letters. Doc. 41 at 2. While Plaintiff's letters threatened litigation, they were not attempts at service. Indeed, the Second Amended Complaint was not even filed until January 5, 2017. See Docs. 35, 41-1 & 41-2.

         Plaintiff then employed ASAP Serve, a professional process server, to serve Defendant Singer personally. Doc. 41 at 2. According to the affidavit of John Osborn, he attempted to personally serve Defendant at his residence four times between January 21 and 31, 2017. Doc. 42. Mr. Osborn avers that on these occasions there was no answer at Defendant's door, despite the fact that he could hear noises consistent with someone moving around inside the home. Id. Mr. Osborn further avers that he observed a pickup truck in Defendant's driveway with “OUTWEST GIFTS” printed on the doors and that one of Defendant's neighbors verified that he lives at the target residence. Id.

         Plaintiff now moves the Court for permission to serve by publication, asserting that Defendant Singer is consciously avoiding service despite its diligent efforts to serve him personally. Doc. 41 at 1.

         II. Analysis

         There is no express provision for service by publication under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. However, Rule 4(e)(1) provides that a defendant may be served by “following state law for serving a summons in an action brought in courts of general jurisdiction in the state where the district court is located or where service is made.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(e)(1).

         New Mexico Rule 1-004(F) requires personal service of process upon an individual and specifies various methods in which personal service may be accomplished. See Rule 1-004(F) NMRA. If personal service cannot reasonably be accomplished in accordance with Rule 1-004(F), then constructive service is permitted under Rule 1-004(J), which provides:

[u]pon motion, without notice, and showing by affidavit that service cannot reasonably be made as provided by this rule, the court may order service by any method or combination of methods, including publication, that is reasonably calculated under all of the circumstances to apprise the defendant of the existence and pendency of the action and afford a reasonable opportunity to appear and defend.

Rule 1-004(J) NMRA (emphasis added).

         While service by publication is generally limited to in rem or quasi in rem actions, the New Mexico Supreme Court has carved out an exception to this general rule “in cases where the defendant, being aware that civil action may be instituted against him, attempts to conceal himself to avoid service of process.” Clark v. LeBlanc, 1979-NMSC-034, ¶ 7, 92 N.M. 672, 673, 593 P.2d 1075, 1076.

This exception is based on the fact that “[i]n concealing himself, the defendant, by his own action, renders personal service or process impossible. This action constitutes a waiver of notice of the proceedings sought to be avoided . . . . To allow a person to escape his civil obligation by purposefully hiding himself would be to encourage deception.” Id. In order to permit substituted service on the basis of evasion, the Court must make a finding of fact that the defendant intentionally avoided service of process. Edmonds v. Martinez, P.3d __, 2009 WL 2381282, at *4 (N.M. App. May 6, 2009).

Cowan et al. v. Angelico, et al., CIV 09-0483 JCH/LFG, Doc. 49 at 4 (emphasis added). The Court notes that in the Cowan case, Magistrate Judge Lorenzo F. Garcia denied a motion for service by publication even where the plaintiffs “made a prima facie showing” that the defendants had “actual notice of the lawsuit” and were “intentionally avoiding service of process.” Id. at 3. Judge Garcia specifically found that the Cowan plaintiffs failed to satisfy the state requirements for service by publication because: (1) they did not demonstrate by affidavit that service could not be accomplished by other ...


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