After filing a lawsuit, plaintiffs are required to notify defendants of the impending suit so that they may defend and respond to the claim. Without notice that a lawsuit has been filed against them, defendants’ due process rights may be violated if an unfavorable judgment is entered or rendered without their knowledge. The time frame for this requirement – commonly known as “service of process” – varies among state and federal jurisdictions. In Louisiana, plaintiffs have ninety days from filing a lawsuit to request service of process, which is known in Louisiana as “citation and service.” The lawsuit officially begins once a defendant receives citation and service because only then will a court have jurisdiction over all of the parties. If service is not completed within the statutory period, defendants may justifiably make a motion to dismiss the case. Plaintiffs, however, may be able to defeat a motion to dismiss if they can show good cause for being untimely with the requirement. This issue was recently before the Supreme Court of Louisiana in George Igbinoghene and Sebastian Busari v. St. Paul Travelers Ins. Co.
In the seminal case, Igbinoghene and Busari (hereinafter “plaintiffs”) filed their petition in the parish of Orleans on May 18, 2007, but failed to request service within ninety days of the filing date. St. Paul Travelers Insurance Company (hereinafter “St. Paul”) filed a motion to dismiss for insufficient service of process. The district court denied the motion and St. Paul appealed.
On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that denying the motion to dismiss was proper because good cause was shown for being untimely since they agreed to St. Paul’s request to extend the time to file responsive pleadings. The Supreme Court found this argument unpersuasive given that such events occurred in 2008 and 2009, which were outside of the relevant period. Moreover, the Supreme Court stated that requesting an extension to file pleadings did not act as an express, written waiver of citation and service. In addition, the Supreme Court declared that St. Paul’s knowledge of the suit did not make citation and service unnecessary. To support this assertion, the Supreme Court relied on Naquin v. Titan Indemnity Co., a Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals case, which held that “defendant’s actual knowledge of a legal action cannot supply the want of citation because proper citation is the foundation of all actions.”
Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the lower court and granted St. Paul’s motion to dismiss because it found that the district court erred in denying the motion. Igbinoghene and Busari v. St. Paul shows us that it is important to have competent representation that will successfully prepare for and fulfill the procedural requirements in bringing a lawsuit. As this case demonstrates, there are grave consequences, such as losing your case, if the lawsuit is challenged and dismissed on procedural grounds.
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