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Washington v. Jackson State University

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

August 9, 2017

ALLISON WASHINGTON PLAINTIFF
v.
JACKSON STATE UNIVERSITY, DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          Daniel P. Jordan III, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This employment-discrimination case is before the Court on Defendant Dowell Taylor's Motion to Dismiss [3]. Taylor says he did not receive timely service of process and that the state and federal claims against him otherwise fail on the merits. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted as to the Title VII claims but denied as to the state-law wrongful-termination claim.

          I. Facts and Procedural History

          Plaintiff Allison Washington filed this lawsuit against Jackson State University and Dowell Taylor in Hinds County Circuit Court on October 19, 2015. She alleges claims under Title VII “and Mississippi statutory and common law” for sex discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and wrongful termination. Compl. [1-1] at 1. Washington served JSU on November 13, 2015, but was unable to serve Taylor within the 120 days provided by Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 4(h), and on February 12, 2016, she filed her first motion for a 120-day extension to effect service on Taylor. Judge Weill granted that motion on March 14, 2016, extending the deadline to serve Taylor until June 15, 2016.

         Washington filed her second motion for a 120-day extension to serve Taylor on June 10, 2016. Had that motion been granted, she would have had until October 13, 2016, to effect service on Taylor. But Judge Weill did not enter the proposed order Washington's attorney sent, and on October 16, 2016, Washington filed a third motion for a 120-day extension for service of process. Judge Weill granted that motion on October 18, 2016, by entering an order captioned “Order Granting Third Extension of Time to Serve Complaint to Defendant Dowell Taylor.” Third Extension Order [3-6]. But the circuit court's docket sheet actually linked the electronic filing of that order with the second motion for extension. Docket [8-11] at 2. If the second and third motions were both effectively granted, Washington's deadline to serve Taylor would have been February 10, 2017.

         On February 10, 2017, Washington filed her fourth motion for a 120-day extension to serve Taylor. Judge Weill granted that motion but noted that it would be the final extension. Order [3-8] at 3. Again, assuming all previous extensions were granted, this final deadline would have been June 10, 2017. On May 6, 2017, Washington finally served Taylor, who removed the case to this Court and moved to dismiss.

         II. Analysis

         Taylor contends that the claims against him should be dismissed for failure to comply with Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 4(h). Alternatively, he asserts that the Title VII claims against him lack merit. Finally, in rebuttal, he argues that the state-law wrongful-termination claim against him fails as a matter of law.

         A. Service of Process

         The parties agree that the timing of service of process in this removed case is governed by Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 4(h), which provides:

If a service of the summons and complaint is not made upon a defendant within 120 days after the filing of the complaint and the party on whose behalf such service was required cannot show good cause why such service was not made within that period, the action shall be dismissed as to that defendant without prejudice upon the court's own initiative with notice to such party or upon motion.

Miss. R. Civ. P. 4(h).

         Based on this rule, Taylor makes three main arguments for finding that he was not properly served: (1) the state-court orders failed to establish “good cause” for the delays; (2) service was untimely because Washington failed to serve him before the first extension expired; and (3) because Washington received only three extensions totaling 360 days, her final day for service was February 10, 2017. None of these arguments are compelling.

         Taylor first says that because, in his view, Washington “never established good cause for any extension of time she received to serve Taylor, . . . her service on Taylor-564 days after first having the summons issued to him, was untimely.” Def.'s Mem. [4] at 4. But the state-court orders did explain why time was needed, and this Court will not second guess Judge Weill's rationale or rulings. See 18B Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 4478.4 (3d ed. 1998) (explaining that where a case “move[s] from one court to another by such means as . . . removal ...


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