Murphy Brothers, Inc. v. Michetti Pipe Stringing, Inc., 526 U.S. 344 (1999)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit

No. 97-1909. Argued March 1, 1999—Decided April 5, 1999

On January 26, 1996, respondent Michetti Pipe Stringing, Inc. (Michetti), filed a complaint in Alabama state court seeking damages for an alleged breach of contract and fraud by petitioner Murphy Bros., Inc. (Murphy). Michetti did not serve Murphy then, but three days later it faxed a "courtesy copy" of the file-stamped complaint to a Murphy vice president. Michetti officially served Murphy under local law by certified mail on February 12, 1996. On March 13, 1996 (30 days after service but 44 days after receiving the faxed copy of the complaint), Murphy removed the case under 28 U. S. C. 1441 to the Federal District Court. Michetti moved to remand the case to the state court on the ground that Murphy filed the removal notice 14 days too late under 1446(b), which specifies, in relevant part, that the notice "shall be filed within thirty days after the receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of the [complaint]." (Emphasis added.) Because the notice had not been filed within 30 days of the date on which Murphy's vice president received the facsimile transmission, Michetti asserted, the removal was untimely. The District Court denied the remand motion on the ground that the 30-day removal period did not commence until Murphy was officially served with a summons. On interlocutory appeal, the Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded, instructing the District Court to remand the action to state court. Emphasizing the statutory words "receipt . . . or otherwise," the Eleventh Circuit held that the defend-ant's receipt of a faxed copy of the filed initial pleading sufficed to commence the 30-day removal period.

Held: A named defendant's time to remove is triggered by simultaneous service of the summons and complaint, or receipt of the complaint, "through service or otherwise," after and apart from service of the summons, but not by mere receipt of the complaint unattended by any formal service. Pp. 350-356.

(a) Service of process, under longstanding tradition in our system of justice, is fundamental to any procedural imposition on a named defendant. In the absence of such service (or waiver of service by the defendant), a court ordinarily may not exercise power over a party the

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