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McCurdy v. American Bd. of Plastic Surgery

September 22, 1998


Sloviter and Roth, Circuit Judges, and FEIKENS,*fn1 District Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sloviter, Circuit Judge

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 97-cv-03047)

Submitted Pursuant to Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a)

July 13, 1998


This appeal requires us to consider the intersection of Rules 4(m) and 12(h) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, in particular whether an objection to service of process as untimely under Rule 4(m) may be waived under 12(h) if not made in compliance with Rule 12(g). Surprisingly, it is an issue we have not previously addressed.


Appellant John A. McCurdy, Jr., M.D., is a licensed physician practicing cosmetic surgery in the State of Hawaii through the professional corporation of John A. McCurdy, Jr., M.D., FACS, Inc., wholly owned by McCurdy (collectively referred to as "McCurdy"). McCurdy filed for bankruptcy after a jury awarded a former patient $2 million in her malpractice suit against him. Thereafter, on June 10, 1996, McCurdy filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii against the American Board of Plastic Surgery ("ABPS") (the appellee here), the Hawaii Plastic Surgery Society, the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, Inc., seven individual plastic surgeons, and two professional medical corporations. McCurdy alleged unfair competition, unlawful restraint of trade and various antitrust violations in the field of cosmetic plastic surgery under the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. § 15 (1994), the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C.§§ 1-2 (1994), and Haw. Rev. Stat. § 480-13(a)(1). Among the overt acts alleged was the testimony of a California plastic surgeon on behalf of the plaintiff in the malpractice suit. On October 4, 1996, McCurdy filed an amended complaint, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a), naming an additional defendant, the American Board of Medical Specialties ("ABMS").

The instant appeal involves only defendant ABPS, which was served with both the original and amended complaints on October 28, 1996, 20 days after the expiration of the original 120-day period provided for under Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(m). McCurdy claims that he failed to serve ABPS during the 120-day period because counsel had used that time to make his Rule 11 inquiry, concluding by October 4, 1996, that a factual and legal basis for suit existed. Although service had been initially mailed to ABPS on October 4, 1996, it was directed to William D. Morain, M.D., who was no longer employed by ABPS. Consequently, McCurdy reserved ABPS on October 24, 1996. This time, service was directed to Constance Hanson, an ABPS administrator, who accepted it on October 28, 1996.

On January 17, 1997, ABPS moved to dismiss McCurdy's claims under Rules 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, asserting that Hawaii lacked personal jurisdiction over it and that venue was improper. ABPS did not allege a defect in the October 28 service of process pursuant to Rules 12(b)(4) or 12(b)(5).

On January 27, 1997, the Hawaii district court granted a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue filed by defendant ABMS. The court reasoned that under Hawaii's long-arm statute, Hawaii had no jurisdiction over ABMS and that even if it did, McCurdy's claims with respect to ABMS were barred by the statute of limitations.

McCurdy anticipated that the court would apply the same reasoning to ABPS, which like ABMS had been served under Hawaii's long-arm statute. Therefore, McCurdy sought to moot the issue of personal jurisdiction under the state long-arm statute by re-serving ABPS under the Clayton Act, which provides that process on a corporate defendant "may be served in the district of which it is an inhabitant, or wherever it may be found." 15 U.S.C. § 22 (1994). McCurdy believed that the October 4 filing of the first amended complaint initiated a new 120-day time period in which to serve ABPS, but even that period would have expired on February 3, 1997. On February 5, 1997, McCurdy filed an ex parte motion requesting the court to exercise its discretion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(m) to extend the 120-day period by nine days. On February 7, 1997, while the ex parte motion was pending, the amended complaint was personally served on ABPS. Although the first service was designated in counsel's cover letter as under the Hawaii long-arm statute, the February service was ostensibly under the nationwide service provision of the Clayton Act. A week later, the Hawaii magistrate Judge denied without prejudice McCurdy's ex parte motion to enlarge the time in which to serve. On February 27, 1997, ABPS moved to quash the February 7, 1997 service on the ground that it was untimely under Rule 4(m). The record contains no indication of any ruling on that motion.

On April 11, 1997, the Hawaii district court, ruling on ABPS's January 17 motion to dismiss, held that it lacked personal jurisdiction over ABPS and that venue was improper. Nonetheless, the court then transferred McCurdy's suit against ABPS to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania "in the interest of Justice," as it would have otherwise been time-barred as of that time. McCurdy never re-served ABPS.

On May 13, 1997, following the transfer, ABPS filed a motion to dismiss arguing that the original October 28, 1996, service was untimely. McCurdy opposed the motion and filed a cross-motion for an extension of time to effect service. McCurdy argued that ABPS had waived any challenges to the timeliness of the October service because its motion to dismiss the action in the District of Hawaii listed as grounds only lack of personal jurisdiction and venue. On November 12, 1997, the Pennsylvania district court granted ABPS's motion on the ground that McCurdy had failed to effect service within 120 days of either the original or first amended complaints. The court read the language of Rule 4(m) that requires that service of process be made within 120 days to be mandatory, and not subject to waiver. Thereafter, the court determined that McCurdy had not been ...

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