Service of Summons and Complaint – Rule 4(i)(2)(C), Ala. R. Civ. P.

Reeves v. Wilson Floor and Wallcovering, Inc., [Ms. SC-2023-0410, Jan. 19, 2024] ___ So. 3d ____ (Ala. 2024). The Court (Cook, J.; Parker, C.J., and Wise, Mendheim, Stewart, and Mitchell, JJ., concur; Shaw and Bryan, JJ., concur in the result; Sellers, J., concurs in the result, with opinion) reverses the Autauga Circuit Court’s order dismissing an action filed by Joseph Reeves against Wilson Floor & Wallcovering, Inc. (“Wilson Flooring”) and Tom Jones for insufficiency of service of process.

Reeves filed suit against Wilson Flooring and Tom Wilson, who the complaint erroneously described as the company’s owner. Ms. *2. Tina Wilson, Tom’s wife and an officer of Wilson Flooring, signed the certified mail return receipt, but the boxes for “addressee” and “agent” were left unchecked. Ms. *3. Neither defendant answered the lawsuit, and the trial court ultimately entered a default judgment for Reeves. Ms. *4.

Reeves conceded that the default judgment was due to be set aside due to improper service but opposed dismissal of the action because Wilson Flooring was informed of the action against it due to its officer Tina Wilson receiving the summons and complaint. Ms. **6-7. Wilson relied on rule 4(i)(2)(C), Ala. R. Civ. P. which provides, “[a]n action shall not be dismissed for improper service of process unless the service failed to inform the defendant of the action within time to avoid a default.”

Rule 4(c)(6) provides in pertinent part that service may be made on a corporation by serving an officer of the corporation. Because Tina Wilson received the summons and complaint and is listed as an officer of Wilson Flooring in its Articles of Incorporation, the Court concludes that even if service was technically improper, Wilson Flooring was informed of the action against it within the time to avoid a default and reverses dismissal of the action. Ms. **13-14.

In Justice Sellers’s view, “service of process on a corporation via certified mail is perfected when an officer or other agent authorized to accept service gets actual notice, which can be substantiated through evidence, that the corporation is being sued. Thereafter, the defendant should not be allowed to rely on a technical defect in the certified-mailing procedure.” Ms. *16. Accordingly, Justice Sellers concurs only in the result because as a practical matter there is “little difference” between reasoning that the action could not be dismissed because an officer of the corporation received the summons and complaint and “the idea that service was perfected and properly accomplished under the requirements of Rule 4.” Ms. *17.

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