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  • Writer's pictureW. Cory Reiss

Lawyers blue over Postal Service non-service.

The United States Postal Service’s unofficial motto is: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Just don’t expect a signature on a certified mail receipt even if you paid at least eight bucks for one.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals this week affirmed dismissal of a complaint for insufficient service of process in part because USPS didn’t get a signature on the return of service, which is supposed to raise a presumption that service on an individual is valid. Instead, the phrase “Covid-19” appears in the signature line.

Proper service of a summons and complaint is a jurisdictional requirement for a lawsuit, and it can bedevil lawyers for many reasons. Recently, one of those reasons has been that they can’t get what they paid for.

USPS began substituting “Covid-19” for signatures in 2020 as part of its contactless delivery program. Frustrating as it was, at least that was understandable. But as any litigation attorney will tell you, the USPS and private delivery services that are supposed to be relied upon to provide service of legal process, such as FedEx, have become extremely unreliable when it comes to getting a signature on delivery even after those protocols fell away.

We’ve seen three out of four summonses sent via FedEx delivered without signatures—in a single case!

In the recent Court of Appeals ruling, other factors overrode the claim of service, including that the defendant had sold the residence to which the summons was addressed. But the ruling confirms it may be best to pay $30 for a sheriff’s deputy to deliver a summons and complaint than risk delays, and possibly dismissal, by relying on increasingly unreliable delivery services to perform one of the most foundational tasks in the legal system.

It's too bad the USPS doesn’t return the unsigned signature card with an apology and refund, but are we really surprised?

There’d be a class action in this if it wasn’t so difficult to sue the federal government for taking your money and delivering empty promises.

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