SW Legal studies in Business

Failure to Provide Proper Service of Process Means Default Judgment Vacated
Description

Maine high court held it improper for a default judgment to be issued against an out-of-state defendant who had not been located. Publication of notice in a local newspaper in Maine was unlikely to reach defendant as he was presumed to be out of state.

Topic Court Procedure
Key Words

Service of Process; Requirements; Publication

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Gaeth accused Deacon of common law assault. Gaeth’s attorney sent Deacon a letter asking him if he had insurance coverage and if he had a lawyer. Deacon replied that he did not. Gaeth later filed suit in Maine court, claiming that Deacon hit him in the face at a party at a college, causing injuries and pain and suffering. Using search software, Gaeth was not able to find Deacon, but suspected he was in Massachusetts. A process server could not locate him. Gaeth then published a notice in a local newspaper in Maine for three weeks notifying Deacon of the complaint. Letters mailed to old addresses were returned by the Post Office. The court then entered a default judgment against Deacon for failure to file a responsive pleading to the complaint. Gaeth was awarded $75,000 in compensatory damages, $25,000 in punitive damages, plus interests and costs. After the judgment, a new address for Deacon was found, and he was notified of the judgment. He responded, but the trial court affirmed the original judgment. Deacon appealed.

Decision

Vacated. Service by publication given to an out-of-state defendant was not reasonable to give actual notice of the lawsuit and did not meet requirements of due process. Publication was in the county where the plaintiff lived. Defendant’s only connection with Maine was his previous attendance at college in a different county in Maine. He had no known connection with the county of the plaintiff’s residence. The plaintiff knew the defendant was probably in Massachusetts, and it is not clear that plaintiff made adequate efforts to track down the defendant, such as by locating relatives who might know his location. It is likely that Deacon could have been located by more diligent effort, so the judgment is vacated.

Citation

Gaeth v. Deacon, 964 A.2d 621 (Sup. Ct., Maine, 2009)

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