The Indiana Northern District Court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing an Indiana man’s personal injury case stemming from an Uber accident after he failed to timely serve the summons and complaint on the defendants, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.
After being injured in a car accident while riding as an Uber passenger in Indiana, Kirk Jones sued the company, his Uber driver, and the driver and owner of the car that caused the accident, Kevin and Mario Ramos, respectively.
Jones filed suit in federal court in New Jersey, where the Ramos’ were from, in October 2018, two days before the applicable statute of limitations was due to run. However, Jones’ attorney failed to effect service of the summons and complaint on any of the defendants within the 90-day period prescribed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the New Jersey court issued a notice of call for dismissal.
Instead of providing proof of service or attempting to serve the summons and complaint on the defendants by the last date possible, March 5, Jones’s counsel filed a motion to change venue to the Northern District of Indiana, asserting that the Uber driver, a Hoosier, was not subject to personal jurisdiction in New Jersey.
Jones’ attorneys still failed to serve the summons and complaint after the motion was granted, prompting motions to dismiss the case from the defendants. Despite having obtained new counsel who eventually served the summons and complaints – between 238 to 244 days after the filing – the Northern District Court ultimately dismissed.
On his motion for reconsideration, the court found Jones did not meet the stringent standards for relief under Rule 60(b). It also found the information provided in the affidavit demonstrated that the prejudice to the defendants caused by the delay was greater than had been apparent earlier, and that the case for dismissal under Rule 4(m) was stronger.
Affirming that decision, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found no abuse of discretion in either the district court’s original ruling or its Rule 60(b) ruling. It found the district court accurately set out the applicable law and made no clearly erroneous factual findings, and that the decision to deny relief was neither arbitrary nor unreasonable.
“Jones asks that we adopt a rule that the Fifth Circuit employs when dismissal without prejudice effectively ends the litigation because of the running of the limitations period,” Judge Ilana Rovner wrote for the 7th Circuit. “Because dismissal with prejudice is a severe sanction that deprives a litigant of the opportunity to pursue his claim, the Fifth Circuit holds that it is warranted only where a clear record of delay or contumacious conduct by the plaintiff exists and a lesser sanction would not better serve the interests of justice.
“In ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 4(m), our circuit requires only that the district court consider whether dismissal without prejudice will effectively end the litigation as one factor to be weighed with others. We have required no heightened standard for motions to dismiss under Rule 4(m) in cases that were filed close to the end of the limitations period,” Rovner continued.
“In fact, we have warned that an attorney who files suit when the statute of limitations is about to expire must take special care to achieve timely service of process because a slip‐up can be fatal. We see no reason to revisit the existing standards in our circuit.”
This article was first published in The Indiana Lawyer.