(CN) – The D.C. Circuit revived claims that the ruling family of Saudi Arabia owes $12 million to a New York artist whom it allegedly commissioned to create 29 sculptures.
Brooklyn-based Elli Bern Angellino claims that his deal with the Royal Family Al-Saud, the ruling family of Saudi Arabia, required it to pay the invoiced amount for any sculpture they accepted once shipped to the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh.
If dissatisfied with a sculpture, the family could return it without paying for it, according to the complaint.
Angellino says the Royal Family kept all 29 sculptures he shipped to Saudi Arabia, but they never paid him the total invoiced amount of $12.58 million.
He sued the family and 16 of its members pro se in the U.S. District Court for the District of Washington, attempted service by mailing a copy of the summons and complaint to the Saudi Arabian Embassy.
Finding this method of service insufficient, however, a federal judge dismissed Angellino’s case in April 2011.
The D.C. Circuit voted 2-1 on Tuesday to reverse..
“Pro se litigants are allowed more latitude than litigants represented by counsel to correct defects in service of process and pleadings,” Judge Karen Henderson wrote for the majority.
“Although Angellino failed to successfully serve process on any of the defendants in the thirteen months between the filing and the dismissal of his complaint, his failure was not a result of ‘inactivity,'” she added. “Angellino attempted to serve process within two weeks of filing his complaint and, when twice ordered to show cause why his complaint should not be dismissed for failure to serve process, he promptly responded by explaining to the court why he believe he had done so.”
The judge added that the court did not provide Angellino with fair notice of the rules for serving his complaint despite his pro se status.
Given “Angellino’s dogged (albeit inadequate) attempts to effect service of process and the district court’s failure to provide ‘a form of notice sufficiently understandable to one in [Angellino’s] circumstances fairly to apprise him of what is required’ to serve process, and to provide notice of the consequences of failing to serve process – we conclude the district court abused its discretion in dismissing Angellino’s complaint,” Henderson concluded (parentheses and brackets in original).