SW Legal studies in Business

Illegible Signature on Certified Mail Not Evidence of Defendantís Receipt of Summons
Description

Alabama appeals court held that the default judgment of a trial court in plaintiffs’ favor was void. The summons had not been sent to the registered business address of defendant and the signature on the receipt from delivery was illegible. That is inadequate evidence of proper service.

Topic Court Procedure
Key Words

Summons; Proper Service; Default Judgment; Void Judgment

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

The Halls sued Johnson Realty and Alvin Johnson, owner of the company. The summonses and complaint were served on both parties by certified mail at an address known to be a proper address for Alvin Johnson and Johnson Realty, for which Alvin was a registered agent. The certified mail receipts were returned to the trial court clerk with illegible signatures. Defendants did not appear in court and did not respond to the action. The Halls moved for default judgment and, after a hearing on the damages, the court awarded the Halls $15,000 in compensatory damages and $30,000 in punitive damages against both defendants. Defendants moved to set aside the judgment, contending that service of process had never been received. Johnson noted that he had moved the business to another location before the summons were mailed to his old address. Johnson also filed an answer to the Halls’ claims and submitted a counterclaim against the Halls. The trial court refused to set aside the judgment. Johnson appealed.

Decision

Reversed and remanded. Failure of proper service under the rules of civil procedure deprives a court of jurisdiction and renders its judgment void. The correct address for Johnson Realty was on record with the Secretary of State. That was the address that should have been used. The trial court clerk’s mailing of the summons and complaint to an address known to be used by Johnson, and the receipt of illegible receipts, did not create a presumption of proper service. There is no evidence that Johnson received the summons. Strict compliance with the rules regarding service of process is required.

Citation

Johnson v. Hall, ---So.2d--- (2008 WL 5195040, Ct. App., Ala., 2008)

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