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Crawford v. Guthmiller

Supreme Court of Idaho

December 21, 2018

TODD CRAWFORD, individually; BENJAMIN CRAWFORD, individually; ETHAN CRAWFORD, individually, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
DANIEL GUTHMILLER, individually; DENNIS GUTHMILLER, individually, Defendants-Respondents.

          Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Steven Hippler, District Judge.

         District court judgment dismissing case for failure to serve, affirmed.

          Matthew K. Steen, III, Boise, argued for appellants.

          Gjording Fouser, Boise, for respondents. Stephen L. Adams argued.

          BURDICK, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         This case involves the Crawfords' failure to timely serve the Guthmillers pursuant to Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 4(b)(2) and whether good cause exists to justify such failure. Nearly two years after their car was rear-ended by the Guthmillers, the Crawfords filed a complaint seeking to recover against the Guthmillers. In the six months following the filing of the complaint, the Crawfords attempted to effect service on the Guthmillers at the address the Crawfords found on various internet websites. On the last day of the six-month window to effect service of process, the Crawfords filed a motion seeking to extend the time to effect service for ninety days or to serve by publication. The district court determined the Crawfords had not shown good cause for failing to serve the Guthmillers within the allowed six-month time frame. Thus, the district court entered judgment dismissing the Crawfords' claims without prejudice. The Crawfords timely appealed, and we affirm.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Todd, Benjamin, and Ethan Crawford (collectively, Crawfords) contend they were injured when a car driven by Daniel Guthmiller, that was owned by Dennis Guthmiller (collectively, Guthmillers), rear-ended the Crawfords' vehicle. The accident occurred on January 2, 2015. Nearly two years later, the Crawfords filed their complaint on December 29, 2016. On June 29, 2017, exactly six months after filing the complaint, the Crawfords filed a motion pursuant to Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 4(b)(2) seeking a ninety day extension of time to serve the Guthmillers and to serve by publication. In support of their motion, the Crawfords submitted affidavits from Joy Garrison and Benjamin Storer, the two people who had unsuccessfully attempted to serve the Guthmillers at their alleged residence of 2484 North Hickory Way in Meridian. Ms. Garrison's initial affidavit alleged that she attempted to serve the Guthmillers on several occasions, and on her last attempt, the door was answered by a woman who informed Ms. Garrison that the Guthmillers had not lived at that address "for almost two years." Mr. Storer also attempted service at that address and contended that the woman who answered the door for Ms. Garrison was not being truthful as to whether the Guthmillers resided there because, "[a]ll of my searches show that [the Guthmillers] are still residing there and avoiding service."

         On July 12, 2017, the district court denied the Crawfords' motion on the grounds that they had not demonstrated good cause under Rule 4(b)(2) for failing to serve the Guthmillers within six months. At that time, the affidavits the Crawfords had submitted did not specify when service attempts were made, or what efforts were taken to ensure the Crawfords had the correct address. The district court allowed the Crawfords to submit additional affidavits demonstrating good cause. The Crawfords submitted additional affidavits from Ms. Garrison and Mr. Storer. Ms. Garrison's second affidavit contended she "did searches on several address search sites" prior to giving the summons and complaint to Mr. Storer. All websites searched by Ms. Garrison showed the Hickory Way address. The websites Ms. Garrison searched to ascertain the Guthmillers' address were: whitepages.com, publicwhitepages.com, and familytreenow.com. Based on these results, Mr. Storer unsuccessfully attempted service at the Hickory Way address once per week between February 7 and March 5, 2017, during the hours of 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. Ms. Garrison then attempted service at the same address six times between April 13 and June 24, 2017. As noted, on her last service attempt on June 24, Ms. Garrison was informed the Guthmillers had not lived at the Hickory Way address for nearly two years. Based on the supplemental affidavits, the Crawfords renewed their motion to extend the time for service and serve by publication.

         On July 31, 2017, the Guthmillers made a special appearance seeking dismissal of the Crawfords' complaint. The Guthmillers submitted an affidavit from Dennis Guthmiller stating he and his family moved away from the Hickory Way address in October 2015. The Guthmillers' counsel contended that a Westlaw public records search of "Guthmiller, Dennis" showed he did not reside at the Hickory Way address, and a tax assessment search showed the Guthmillers did not own the Hickory Way house.

         On September 8, 2017, the district court held a hearing on whether the Crawfords had demonstrated good cause for failing to timely serve the Guthmillers. The Crawfords contended good cause was shown based on the internet search sites showing the Hickory Way address, service attempts on eleven different occasions, and that the Guthmillers' insurer knew of the filing of the action. Following the hearing and supplemental briefing, the district court determined the Crawfords had failed to show good cause and granted the Guthmillers' motion to dismiss. The district court reasoned that the Crawfords waited until the last possible moment prior to the running of the statute of limitations to file their action, and as such, assumed the risk of forfeiting their cause of action if they failed to effect service of process within six months.

         The court went on to say that the Crawfords' initial attempts to effect service were diligent; that is, it was initially reasonable to rely on public records websites to obtain the Guthmillers' address. However, after four unsuccessful attempts to effect service by Mr. Storer, with no sign the Guthmillers were evading service, due diligence required the Crawfords revisit their efforts. The district court found that although Mr. Storer contended in his affidavit that the Guthmillers were evading service, there was no evidence supporting this belief besides the fact that no one was home on the four times Mr. Storer went to the address. And in fact, Mr. Storer was just looking in the wrong place. The court stated,

[i]nstead of taking steps to confirm that [the Guthmillers] indeed resided at the Hickory Way address, such as consulting public records websites that draw from government records, [the Crawfords] persisted in their fruitless efforts to serve at the Hickory Way address, this time assigning Garrison to the task. While Garrison was diligent in her task, having visited the Hickory Way home six times between April 13 and June 24, Plaintiffs should have recognized after her first or second visit that it was a fool's errand. At that point-after several unsuccessful attempts, only a handful of weeks to effect service, and having failed to expand their research of [the Guthmillers'] residence-it was incumbent upon [Crawfords], had they been exercising due diligence, to-at a minimum-seek assistance with this Court through a motion for additional time to serve or a motion for leave to serve through publication. Despite the fact that their claim would forever expire without effecting service, [Crawfords] did neither, instead waiting until the eve of the deadline to take any substantive action.

         Thus, the district court concluded the Crawfords had not shown good cause, denied the Crawfords' motion to extend time to serve, and granted the Guthmillers' motion to dismiss. Judgment was subsequently entered dismissing the Crawfords' claim without prejudice. However, because the statute of limitations had now run for Todd and ...


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