Friday, August 8, 2008
Court: No Higher Standard for Service on Michael Jackson
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge improperly focused on the defendant’s celebrity status to impose a higher standard on a woman’s request to serve by publication her complaint accusing pop star Michael Jackson of harassment, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Reversing Judge Jacqueline Connor’s order dismissing the action with prejudice, Div. Two ruled in an unpublished opinion that Helen Harris-Scott’s previous unsuccessful attempts to serve Jackson personally and by mail—and the fact that his current country of residence is unknown—supported the request.
Acting in pro per, Harris-Scott filed suit in April 2006 accusing Jackson of stalking, surveillance and harassment at her California home.
Over the following months, she attempted to serve Jackson personally and by mail at his Neverland ranch in Los Olivos in Santa Barbara County, at another residence Jackson co-owns and at his mother’s residence.
After she hired a process server to locate Jackson in Las Vegas to no avail, and after her attorney discovered that Jackson’s California corporation had been dissolved, she asked Jackson’s attorney to divulge his client’s location or accept service on his behalf, but was rebuffed and informed that Jackson had left the country.
Harris-Scott made a number of other attempts at service, including leaving the summons and complaint at the gates of the Neverland ranch because it was impossible to actually reach the residence, but requested that Connor authorize service by publication after all were unsuccessful.
However, Connor, remarking that “the case law would work if it was a normal human being like you or I...[but this] is Michael Jackson,” concluded Harris-Scott had not been sufficiently diligent in her efforts. Denying the request, Connor granted a motion by Jackson’s counsel to quash service and dismissed the action with prejudice.
Writing for the Court of Appeal, Presiding Justice Roger W. Boren initially commented that Connor’s dismissal order—which cited Code of Civil Procedure Secs. 572 and 581—was “reversible on its face” because the former section was inapplicable, and the latter only permits dismissals without prejudice.
Turning to Harris-Scott’s request to publish service, he also noted that Sec. 415.5 allows service by publication on defendants whose whereabouts cannot be determined with reasonable diligence and who have no known fixed location where service can otherwise be effected, and concluded that Harris-Scott had been sufficiently diligent.
“Standards of diligence do not require appellant to conduct a country-by-country search for an elusive defendant,” Boren wrote.
“It appears that the trial court was cognizant that appellant has made diligent efforts to locate and serve Jackson. But the court held appellant to a different—and higher—standard because the defendant is a celebrity.
“Contrary to the court’s belief, the law applies equally to celebrities and noncelebrities. It was an abuse of discretion to require appellant to surmount a higher standard of diligence simply because she is suing someone famous.”
Boren similarly rejected counsel’s argument that Harris-Scott had failed to demonstrate a “cause of action” as required under Sec. 415.5, opining that her declaration under penalty of perjury attached to the complaint giving details based on personal knowledge of her claim that Jackson allegedly committed wrongful acts of stalking gave rise both to a cause of action and to personal jurisdiction.
Justices Kathryn Doi Todd and Victoria M. Chavez joined Boren in his opinion.
The case is Harris-Scott v. Jackson, B200107.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company