Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Dismissal for Failure to Effect Service Reversed in Florida Failure to Protect Suit

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that as long as a court-appointed agent to serve summons for a prisoner-litigant acting pro se can locate the prison guard-defendant with reasonable effort, prisoner-litigants who provide enough information to identify the prison guard-defendant have established good cause for the failure to effect service within 120 days.

That ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Florida prisoner Larry D. Richardson, who filed a civil rights complaint alleging violation of his Eighth Amendment rights at Charlotte Correctional Institution by assigning him to a cell with another prisoner who was known to be dangerous and who later attacked him, by refusing him medical treatment for 15 hours after the attack, and by denying his numerous grievances and requests.

The district court dismissed the claims against Secretary James McDonough, Mr. Adams, Inspector Laughlin, and Warden Johnson for failure to connect them to the violation. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed that ruling.

At issue was the failure to timely serve summons on guard McNealy. The district court ordered the U.S. Marshals to serve summons on McNealy by having them mailed to guard Shirley Matthew. She informed the Court that she was unable to serve McNealy because there was “no such person at this institution.”

The district court dismissed the action against McNealy for Richardson’s failure to serve him within 120 days as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4 (m).

The Eleventh Circuit found that dismissal was an abuse of discretion. Its previous precedent holds that “the failure of the United States Marshal to effectuate service on behalf of an in forma pauperis plaintiff through no fault of that plaintiff constitutes ‘good cause’ for the plaintiff’s failure to effect timely service within the meaning of Rule 4 (m).”

The Court, citing Graham v. Satkoski, 51 F.3d 710, 713 (7th Cir. 1995), said “that use of marshals to effect service alleviates two concerns that pervade prisoner litigation, state or federal: 1) the security risks inherent in providing the addresses of prison employees to prisoners; and 2) the reality that prisoners often get the ‘runaround’ when they attempt to obtain information through governmental channels and needless attendant delays in litigating a case result.”

The Court held that it is “unreasonable to expect incarcerated and unrepresented prisoner-litigants to provide the current addresses of prison-guard defendants who no longer work at the prison.” If the Marshals could have obtained the new address of the prison-guard defendant with reasonable effort, “good cause” is shown. The matter was remanded to determine if McNealy can be located with reasonable effort. In all other respects, the district court was affirmed. See: Richardson v. Johnson, 598 F.3d 734 (11th Cir. 2010).

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Richardson v. Johnson