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COA affirms the voiding of $500,000 default judgment against American Legion post

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A Marion Superior court correctly set aside default judgment against an American Legion post after finding the method employed to serve process on the organization was not the best way to inform it of a woman’s lawsuit, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

Mary L. Anderson slipped and fell on property owned by the Wayne Post 64, American Legion Corp. in June 2010. She sued and received a default judgment of $500,000 in 2012 when the American Legion failed to appear or respond to the complaint.

American Legion moved to set aside the default judgment, arguing it was void because Anderson had not served her complaint on it, so the court did not acquire personal jurisdiction over the organization.

Anderson had a Marion County Sheriff’s deputy leave a copy of the complaint and summons at 601 S. Holt Road, the registered address of Robert Eakins, the registered agent for the organization. But the deputy left the copy at the door of an outbuilding to the post instead of at the main building. Ken Cooper, the current registered agent for the American Legion, testified that the location of the door would make it difficult for someone to notice anything left there, and that it could have easily been blown away.

The sheriff’s deputy also mailed a copy of the complaint and summons by first class mail to the address.

Marion Superior Judge Heather Welch overturned the default judgment finding it void because of insufficient service of process. The Court of Appeals agreed.

“There is no question that Anderson failed to serve the American Legion in a manner authorized by our Trial Rules,” Judge Edward Najam wrote in Mary L. Anderson v. Wayne Post 64, American Legion Corp., 49A05-1309-CT-442. He noted that the copy of the summons and complaint should have been mailed by registered or certified mail, which requires acknowledgement of receipt, as outlined in Rule 4.1(A)(1). In addition, the sheriff’s deputy did not serve Eakins personally as required under Rule 4.1(A)(2).

The judges rejected Anderson’s claim that her attempt to serve process was still adequate. The deputy did not leave the summons and complaint in a place or with a person reasonably calculated to apprise the American Legion of her lawsuit against it, let alone employ a method that was better calculated to give notice than the methods authorized by the Trial Rules, Najam wrote.

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