The opinion of the court was delivered by: CALDWELL
CALDWELL, District Judge.
28 U.S.C. § 1446(b) (brackets added) provides, in relevant part, as follows: "the petition for removal of a civil action or proceeding shall be filed within thirty days after the receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of the initial pleading setting forth the claims for relief upon which such action or proceeding is based. . . ." Defendant's petition asserts that defendant received the complaint on April 4, 1984, under letter, dated April 2, 1984. The petition was filed on May 3, 1984. Thus, if we accept defendant's allegations, the petition is timely. Plaintiff asserts, however, that service was accomplished prior to April 4, 1984. It alleges that service was made in accordance with Pa.R.Civ.P. 1145 when the sheriff posted the premises on March 6, 1984, and when he sent the complaint by certified mail to defendant's address in Maryland. Plaintiff admits defendant never received the complaint but asserts that defendant should not be permitted to avoid service by not picking up the mail. The complaint was returned to the sheriff, marked "UNCLAIMED" by the postal service, after three attempts at delivery on March 9, 1984, March 14, 1984, and March 24, 1984. Characterizing this as a refusal by defendant to accept service, plaintiff contends that a May 3 filing date for the petition was untimely since more than thirty days elapsed from notification to him by the postal service of the sheriff's letter.
Assuming arguendo that a refusal to accept a certified letter constituting effective service of process under state law would also begin the running of the thirty day period under section 1446(b),
we must nevertheless reject plaintiff's contention because an unclaimed letter is not the same as a refused one. The situation is analogous to National Expositions, Inc. v. DuBois, 97 F.R.D. 400 (W.D.Pa.1983). In National Expositions, the court, interpreting Pa.R.Civ.P. 2079(c)(3), dealing with the right of service upon an out-of-state defendant by ordinary mail when the defendant has refused a certified letter, stated:
While a refusal to accept the letter may constitute sufficient evidence of service . . . a mere failure to claim a letter cannot be treated in the same fashion. A refusal is intentional. Failure to claim may be the result of the defendant being away from his address for an extended period of time without any intention whatsoever of avoiding service of process.
Id. at 403 (quoting Harris v. Kaulius, 18 Pa.D. & C.3d 636, 639 (1981)). In National Expositions, when the certified letters were returned, marked only "Unclaimed," the court concluded that service on the defendants was improperly made.
Similarly, we also conclude in the instant case that service on the defendant was never accomplished when the complaint was return by the postal service as "UNCLAIMED."
Therefore, plaintiff cannot rely upon the postal service's attempts to deliver the complaint in March as starting the thirty day period under section 1446(b).
Plaintiff next asserts that 28 U.S.C. § 1441, authorizing removal of actions to the district court, applies only to "pending" actions. Since judgment was entered in the state court prior to the filing of the petition, there was no action that could be removed. Ristuccia v. Adams, 406 F.2d 1257 (9th Cir.1969), and In re 73rd Precinct Station House, 329 F. Supp. 1175 (E.D.N.Y.1971), relied upon by plaintiff, are inapposite. In these cases the parties seeking removal appeared in the state court action, defended on the merits, and sought removal only after an adverse determination in the state court. Indeed, in Ristuccia removal was sought only after the state appellate court had denied relief. Those cases cannot control when the petition has been timely filed and the defendant has not unequivocally subjected himself to the state court.
Defendant has also moved to strike the default judgment. Plaintiff has not opposed this motion. This court has authority to set aside a judgment rendered by a state court before removal of the action. See Kizer v. Sherwood, 311 F. Supp. 809 (M.D.Pa.1970). Accordingly, because under local rule 401.6 the motion is deemed unopposed by plaintiff's failure to respond, we will set aside the judgment and grant defendant twenty days to file an answer.
We will issue an appropriate ...