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COA: Serving notice on an adult's parents isn't adequate

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that a trial court can’t serve notice on the home of someone’s parents if that adult doesn’t live there and expect that to serve as adequate notice for the party to appear in court.

A 12-page ruling came from the appellate court today in Jim Norris v. Personal Finance, No. 27A04-1104-SC-183 reversing a decision by Grant Superior Judge Warren Haas.

The case involves a personal loan that Personal Finance granted to Jim Norris in 2008 but that he failed to pay back. In the loan documents, Norris listed his home in Swayzee, Ind., and listed his parents in Middleton, Ind., as references. The promissory note Norris signed didn’t require him to notify Personal Finance of any change in address, and he didn’t. After Norris stopped paying on the loan, Personal Finance filed a claim in small claims court in March 2010 and the sheriff’s office served a copy of the notice to his parents address by personal service and first-class mail.

Norris didn’t appear at the April 2010 hearing and a default judgment was entered against him. In February 2011, an attorney for Norris filed a motion for relief from judgment on grounds that the service of process at the parents’ Middleton address was inadequate because Norris didn’t live there. Norris’ attorney argued that the default judgment was void, but after a hearing the trial judge determined the parents had a duty to either inform Norris of the notice or make sure the trial court knew of address error.

On appeal, the three-judge appellate panel disagreed and found Indiana Trial Rule 4.16 doesn’t impose a duty on the parents and that the notice was insufficient. Specifically, the court looked at the trial rule that says, “Anyone accepting service for another person is under a duty to: 1) promptly deliver the papers to that person; 2) promptly notify that person that he holds the papers for him; or 3) within a reasonable time, notify the clerk or person making the service that he has been unable to make such delivery of notice when such is the case.”

Norris argued that Rule 4.16 applies only to those with authority to accept service for another person and that his parents didn’t have that authority. The appellate judges agreed, basing their decision on LaPalme v. Romero, 621 N.E. 2d 1102 (Ind. 1993) that held parents of a competent adult aren’t included on the list of those with automatic authority to accept service.

The court also found that just because Norris had knowledge of the action and hearing doesn’t grant the court personal jurisdiction, relying on a state Court of Appeals decision from 2001 that found a man hadn’t been adequately served notice even though he eventually received the summons from his parents.
 

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