Service Crucial in Successful Court Cases

In order for a court to have jurisdiction over a person, proper service of process must be employed, giving legal notice to the party of the suit and enabling them to timely prepare in anticipation of the suit. If proper service is not performed, a court may not have jurisdiction over such person. In a recent Louisiana Supreme Court case, the requirements of proper service were explored in order to determine whether the proper steps were employed. proper service of process is one of the most important parts of a law suit, without proper service, the defendant may not be forced to participate in the case. Thus, the importance of proper service cannot be emphasized enough.

The case at issue involves the plaintiff, who fax-filed suit against several defendants, including the State of Louisiana, through the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD), seeking to recover damages arising from an automobile accident. In the plaintiffs petition, requested service on DOTD though the attorney general was made. The issue became whether the plaintiff’s service of process was insufficient based on the fact that he did not request service on the secretary of DOTD. Citing to Louisiana Revised Statute 13:5107(A) which provides in part:

“In all suits filed against the state of Louisiana or a state agency, citation and service may be obtained by citation and service on the attorney general of Louisiana, or on any employee in his office above the age of sixteen years, or any other proper officer or person, depending upon the identity of the named defendant and in accordance with the laws of this state, and on the department, board, commission, or agency head or person…”

The plaintiff has 90 days from filing the complaint, to properly serve the named defendant(s). Here, the defendant argues that the plaintiff failed to request proper service within 90 days of the filing of his suit pursuant to La. R.S. 13:5107(A), entitling DOTD to the dismissal of the plaintiffs claims. the issue is whether or not litigation involving two state agencies requires double service, i.e., service on the agency head and the attorney general. The appellate court relied on jurisprudential interpretation to dismiss the plaintiffs claim, stating that the interpretation of LSA-R.S. 13:5107 mandates service of citation on the state agency must be made upon the attorney general and on the agency head for the department against whom the action is filed. However, upon the Louisiana Supreme Court’s grant of supervisory writ, the court specifically explored whether an actual “double service” was indeed required. The Court held that a double request for service is not necessary. Clearly, the plaintiff’s request for service on the attorney general alone satisifed the service requirements of LSA-R.S. 13:5107(A). This is supported by LSA-R.S. 39:1538 which neither imposes a time constraint on the service required by the plaintiff nor provides for dismissal for the failure to effectuate service. In fact, the plaintiff’s failure to request service on the department head and the office of risk management within 90 days of commencement of his action did not entitle DOTD to the dismissal of his claims against it. Since there are no time periods set forth nor a requirement for dismissal, the Louisiana Supreme Court held that the incomplete service can be cured by the plaintiff simply requesting and obtaining service of process on DOTD’s secretary and the office of risk management, and the appellate court had erred in failing to allow him the opportuity to so do.

In summary, proper service is monumentally important in allowing a case to go forward against a specific defendant. If proper service is not effectuated the complaint may not be heard. However, if the plaintiff has properly served named defendants according to the revised Statutes, than his complaint may not be dismissed for a mere technicality that requires him to further serve specific parties within a state agency. As a result, a plaintiff who properly does perform service on the “main” defendants as named in the revised statutes will be permitted to remedy the incomplete service by permitting extra time to obtain service on the additional enumerated parties.