Consumer protection lawsuits in federal court: part 3 — defendant is served with your lawsuit

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Being served in a federal consumer protection lawsuit means that the defendant has been handed the Complaint which starts the clock running on the defendant to respond to the lawsuit.

In our last blog post we talked about the actual Complaint which starts the lawsuit.

Now we’ll talk about what it means for the defendant to be served with the Complaint.

Being served is the trigger or the start of the time for the defendant to respond to the lawsuit.
Without the defendant being served, nothing good can happen. The reason is that every person or company has a constitutional right to be “served” with a lawsuit or the court has no power to enter a judgment against a defendant. The reason is the defendant needs to know what the lawsuit is about and actually be served with it. Given an opportunity to defend itself against the Complaint.

So being served is the first critical step in the federal court lawsuit journey.

A corporation is typically served by certified mail sent to its registered agent for service.
While a corporation can be “personally served” the more common way is to receive a copy of the Complaint and other required documents by certified mail.

We know where to send the certified mail because in Alabama (and virtually every other state) the defendant must tell us who is the “registered agent for service”. We find this information on the Secretary of State website for each state, including Alabama.

A registered agent for service is a person or company the defendant selects to receive all of the filed lawsuits — it is done this way for convenience and efficiency.
It could be someone internal in the company but most commonly for the companies we sue, it is an outside corporation whose sole purpose is to act as the agent for service. The reasons for hiring a company include convenience and efficiency in dealing with lawsuits.

Convenience as no matter when a lawsuit comes in, the registered agent will be there to receive it. If a defendant designates, for example, its receptionist, what happens if he or she is out? Quits? Or if the lawsuit is served during a crazy busy time of the year? Easier to have it go to a company whose “only job” is receiving lawsuits for many companies across the nation.

Efficiency in that these companies — registered agents for service — get “served” every single day. So they understand the process — scan in the lawsuit, note the date and time of service, send to the actual defendant, etc. Rather than a defendant having to train its own employees on how to deal with lawsuits that are served, it can have a “professional” handle it so the Complaint doesn’t get misplaced, lost, thrown away, etc.

Once the registered agent receives the Complaint, it will pass it along to the defendant.
Whatever the procedure or internal rules are, the registered agent will then send the lawsuit to the defendant. Normally this is by email/scanned, but may also be by fax and regular mail. There may be calls made to the general counsel’s office of the defendant to let them know that the lawsuit has been served.

The next step is for the defendant to respond to the lawsuit — either in an answer or a motion to dismiss — within the time limits allowed. Or it can ignore the lawsuit and suffer the consequences.
Basically a defendant has three choices once served:

1. Do nothing 2. Answer the lawsuit 3. File a motion to dismiss
Typically the defendant has 21 days to answer or file a motion to dismiss from the date served. If the 21st day falls on a holiday or weekend, the deadline rolls forward to the next day. We’ll talk about these options a defendant has after being served starting in our next article.

Hope you are enjoying our series on consumer protection lawsuits in federal court.

Give us a call at 205-879-2447 if you have any questions and we’ll be glad to help you any way we can.

Thanks!

John Watts

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