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Mid-Continent Wood Products v. Harris

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Harris appealed a district court judgment that denied his motion to dismiss a breach of contract claim on grounds of improper service. 

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Service of process must comply with the requirements in Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 

    Facts.

    Mid-Continent Wood Products (MCWP) sought a default judgment against Lawrence Harris (Harris) alleging breach of contract for lumber purchases. MCWP failed to act on the default judgment and sought a promissory note to receive payments from Harris instead. Harris failed to pay on the promissory note and made several attempts to serve Harris. After several years, MCWP moved to execute on some of Harris’s assets and Harris sought to dismiss because he was not properly served. The district court denied Harris’ motion and Harris appealed. 

    Issue.

    Whether a district can create its own criteria for service of process if the service does not comply with the requirements in Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 

    Held.

    No. The three-step test that the district court applied to determine whether service was proper required that the defendant: (1) knew about the lawsuit, (2) the process server actually attempted to serve the defendant, and (3) equity creates an exception to Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This test is invalid to determine whether service of process is valid and the district court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant. 

    Discussion.

    Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires a copy of the summons and complaint be delivered to the defendant, the defendant’s home, or an agent of the defendant. 


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