Hamilton County Court of Appeals rules that certified mail practice during pandemic is not effective service of process

On September 29, 2021, the First District Court of Appeals issued a decision in CUC Properties, Inc. v. smartLink Ventures, Inc., Case No. C-210003 which will have a far reaching and substantial impact upon cases in the State of Ohio in which default judgment was obtained as a result of service by the US Postal Service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At issue in CUC Properties v. smartLink was the service of Summons and Complaint by the US Postal Service.  In that action, smartLink disputed that it received service of the Complaint as provided under Civ. R. 4.1 where the USPS noted “Covid 19” or “C19” on the return receipts delivered to smartLink and its registered agent.  As a result of their failure to file an Answer, CUC Properties obtained judgment by default against them.  smartLink appealed, asserting that the notation “Covid 19” or “C19” did not amount to service as provided under the Civil Rules.

The Court agreed, holding that,

The Covid-19 pandemic certainly demanded innovation and flexibility, and courts around the state (and country) admirably exhibited great creativity in keeping the courthouse doors open while also ensuring public safety. The challenging nature of the pandemic aside, we simply cannot dispense with the rules and due process protections. This is particularly so when the record contains no indication that service was otherwise validly achieved. On this record, therefore we hold that a notation of “Covid 19” or “C19”  does not constitute a valid signature under Civ. R. 4.1(A).

This decision, undoubtedly, will have far reaching effects upon the finality of default judgments granted in Ohio courts during the course of the pandemic where the USPS chose to use a notation of “Covid 19” or “C19” in place of having the individual at the address personally sign for the mail from the Court.


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