Ms. Mandava served divorce papers on Mr. Chukkapalli in India using the Hague Convention. When Chukkapalli moved for a new trial in Texas, pointing out flaws in how he was served, Mandava countered by showing that he had actual notice of the Texas lawsuit – he had made a filing with an Indian family court that identified the Texas case and attached a document from the Texas case file. The Fifth Court agreed with him about the problems with service and held: “Although it appears Chukkapalli had actual notice of the Texas divorce proceeding, actual notice to a defendant of a pending suit, without proper [service], is not sufficient.” However: “[U]pon remand, the parties will be before the court wihout need for further citation because Chukkapalli has now become subject to the jurisdiction of the court.” Chukkapalli v. Mandava, No. 05-15-01287-CV (June 30, 2017) (mem. op.)
Deutsche Bank has won a restricted appeal to set aside a no-answer default judgment. The petition named the defendant as “DEUTSCHE BANK NATIONAL TRUST COMPANY, herein sued in its capacity as the Trustee for the Morgan Stanley ABS Capital 1 Inc., Trust 2006-NC5, Mortgage Pass Through Certificates, Series 2006-NC5.” But the clerk’s office issued a citation addressed to “Deutsche Bank National Trust Company as Trustee Company,” and that name was also used on the affidavit of service. Because the citation was addressed to the wrong party, the attempted service of process was invalid and the default judgment had to be set aside.
Deutsche Bank Nat’l Trust Co. v. Kingman Holdings, LLC, 05-14-00855-CV
A year ago, the Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of an equitable bill of review in which the defendants claimed that the plaintiff had not exercised reasonable diligence in its attempts to effect service through registered mail and personal delivery. The Texas Supreme Court has now set aside that ruling, holding that the defendants had presented some evidence that their failure to receive notice of the default judgment resulted solely from the plaintiff’s failure to certify the defendants’ last known mailing address, and not from any negligence or fault on the defendants’ own part. The record contained evidence that the plaintiff’s owner had met with the defendants’ registered agent at their current address, rather than the outdated address on file with the Secretary of State, that raised a genuine issue of material fact as to the validity of the plaintiff’s “last known mailing address” certification.
Katy Venture, Ltd. v. Cremona Bistro, LLC, No. 14-0629
In this restricted appeal, the plaintiff carried out service on the defendant, a bank with a registered agent in New York, solely though service of process upon the Texas Secretary of State. On appeal, the Court agreed with the defendant that such service was improper because the plaintiff failed to strictly comply with CPRC 17.028, which permits service upon a financial institution by service to “the president or a branch manager at any office located in the state.”
In this memorandum opinion, the court found insufficient the sheriff’s affidavit of service, because the affidavit merely stated that the recipient “was served.” According to the Court, “[b]ecause the return does not state the manner of service, it does not strictly comply with [TRCP] 107, which requires the officer’s return state ‘the manner of delivery of service.'”
The defaulting defendant in this case claimed that the plaintiff’s service through the Secretary of State was defective because the plaintiff did not establish reasonable diligence in its failed efforts to effect service via registered mail and personal delivery. The Court of Appeals found that the plaintiff exercised reasonable diligence in both of its prior attempts to carry out service. Regarding registered mail, the record established that the plaintiff paid the clerk and arranged to have the defendants served by certified mail, return receipt requested at the defendant’s registered address. When the mailing was returned with the notation that it was undeliverable and could not be forwarded, the plaintiff had sufficiently exercised reasonable diligence. Regarding personal service, the plaintiff sent a process server to defendant’s registered address, but neither plaintiff’s business nor its registered agent were there. According to the Court, this was enough since “[t]he statute does not require efforts to find the registered agent at any place other than at the entity’s registered office.”
The plaintiff sued his former employer, El Paisano, for unpaid wages and unpaid overtime. After four unsuccessful attempts by a process server to serve El Paisano at the address of its registered agent, the plaintiff served the Texas Secretary of State, who then forwarded the process to the same address via certified mail. That attempt at service also failed, and the process was returned to the secretary of state with the notation “unclaimed.” The plaintiff then moved for a default judgment, which the trial court granted.
El Paisano eventually learned of the default judgment and sought to have it set aside. The trial court denied its motion for a new trial, and El Paisano appealed. El Paisano argued, among other things, that it was not properly served because the secretary of state did not send the process to its principal place of business. The Court of Appeals rejected that argument and upheld the default judgment, noting that the plaintiff was entitled to use substituted service on the secretary of state and that the secretary of state had no obligation to send it anywhere other than the address of El Paisano’s registered agent.
El Paisano Nw Hwy v. Arzate, No. 05-12-01457-CV
A pair of California residents sought to set aside a default judgment by means of a restricted appeal. The defendants claimed that the trial court lacked jurisdiction due to defective service of process, which had been accomplished through the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State’s certificate of service stated that process for both defendants had been “Unclaimed.” After the defendants failed to appear, the trial court entered default judgment for $612,500 in damages and another $13,258.27 in attorney fees. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Although the process server had listed the date of execution as taking place the month before he received the citation, that apparent typographical error was not enough to invalidate the return of service, particularly where the other service documents demonstrated the correct date of service. Substitute service through the Texas Secretary of State was also proper, the Court held, because the petition alleged that they were doing business in Texas by entering into a promissory note and guaranty with a Texas company, with the note also secured by real property located in Kaufman County. Nor did the “Unclaimed” notations demonstrate that the citations had not been served. Instead, the Court followed previous cases holding that it indicated only that the defendants had refused or failed to claim the citations from the Secretary of State’s mailings, not that service had not been accomplished.
Dole v. LSREF2 APEX 2, LLC, No. 05-12-01683-CV
In this memorandum opinion, the Court held that the plaintiff failed to effect service on the defendant because the proof of service on the Secretary of State’s return stated that “no such number” existed. This, according to the Court, was prima facie evidence that the defendant was not served.
Big D appealed from the denial of its motion for new trial following a no-answer default judgment. The court of appeals found that the trial court properly refused to set aside the default judgment. Big D did not prove that its failure to answer was not intentional or the result of conscious indifference but was due to a mistake or accident. Rollins properly served Big D by substituted service on the secretary of state after seven failed attempts to serve Big D’s registered agent at the agent’s registered office and home. The substitute service on the secretary of state was not rendered void by the process being returned with the notation “Refused” because the secretary is not an agent for serving but for receiving process on the defendant’s behalf. Big D also failed to show that the evidence was insufficient to support the amount of damages awarded by the trial court. The court of appeals found that the car owner’s testimony regarding the “Blue Book” value of her vehicle was not so weak that the finding of damages was clearly wrong and unjust. Thus, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment.
Big D Transmission v. Rollins, No. 05-11-01019