Case of the Day: Beckely v. Raith

The case of the day is Beckely v. Raith (N.D. Cal. 2013). Matthew Beckely, also known as Dylan Matthews and “D-Matt”, was suing Reinhard Raith, also known as “Crazy Frog” and “Voodoo & Serano,” among others, for breach of contract and copyright infringement. The defendants were in Germany.

The twist in the case was that the plaintiff was proceeding in forma pauperis. This was displeasing to the judge:

This is not a typical IFP action. A typical IFP action would involve, for example, an impoverished homeowner being sued to remove him from his home. Here, our plaintiff is IFP. He is seeking large sums and injunctive relief based on his commercial dealings. Usually copyright infringement actions are brought by counsel. Evidently no counsel was interested in taking plaintiff’s case.

This seems a bit harsh. Anyway, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d), once the court authorizes the plaintiff to proceed in forma pauperis, “The officers of the court shall issue and serve all process.” Here, the plaintiff could not simply mail the summons and complaint to the defendants in Germany, because of Germany’s Article 10(a) objections to service by postal channels. But the judge refused to require the marshal to serve process via the German central authority, with the necessary translation, at the public expense. The judge cited Porter v. Dept. of the Treasury, 564 F.3d 176 (3d Cir. 2009), but Porter says that a pauper is not exempt “from the costs of copying and filing documents [or] service of documents other than the complaint.” Since we’re talking about service of the summons and the complaint here, this seems to me to be a mis-citation.

The bottom line, in my view, is that where a plaintiff is properly proceeding in forma pauperis, the government should be required to bear the cost of service of process abroad under the statute. I think the case is wrongly decided.

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