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How a Service-of-Process Error Cost One Florida Commercial Landlord Significantly in its Lease Breach and Eviction Case

There are various circumstances that require strict compliance with all legal rules, even when some requirements are quite intricate. One of those is serving notice of a civil lawsuit. As a matter of policy, the law does not want a person or entity placed on trial without making sure unless all I’s have been dotted and all T’s crossed when it comes to providing that person or entity of notice about the lawsuit and the impending trial.

A failure to complete service of notice of your action may seem like a little thing, but it can substantially delay – or even completely derail – your landlord-tenant lawsuit and pursuit of much-deserved damages. On the flip side, procedural errors made by your opposition can be massively beneficial for you as a defendant, if you present and argue them correctly. For these and many other reasons, be sure you have an experienced South Florida commercial litigation attorney with the in-depth knowledge you need to get all the procedural hurdles of your case cleared the first time.

A recent Miami-Dade dispute between a mattress retailer (the tenant) and its landlord offers a good example of what we mean. The landlord had sued the tenant for breach of the lease and for eviction. In a lawsuit like this, the plaintiff (in this case, the landlord) is required to serve notice of the lawsuit on someone the defendant has designated with the state as the defendant’s registered agent, or else serve notice on the defendant itself.

In this landlord’s case, the address for the mattress company’s registered agent happened to be identical to the address for the mattress company’s principal place of business. The landlord’s process server arrived at that address at roughly 11 am, but the registered agent wasn’t there. (State law requires that a registered agent be at the stated address between 10 am and noon.)

This is the point where things turned for the worse for the landlord. The process server, having found the agent unavailable, simply served notice on a random tenant employee named “Drew.”

Eventually, the care proceeded, the tenant did not appear, and the landlord obtained a default judgment in its favor.

What the statute permits…

That judgment got overturned by the appeals court. As the court explained, “Florida law requires strict compliance with all the statutory requirements for service of process” and, strictly speaking, the landlord had not achieved compliance. If you are serving a corporate entity directly, the statute says you have to give the notice to the president, vice president or “other head of the corporation.”

If they’re not available then you have the option of serving the notice on the entity’s “cashier, treasurer, secretary, or general manager.” If those people aren’t available, then you can serve any director. If the directors aren’t available, then you can serve any officer.

What the law doesn’t allow…

What you can’t do, simply because you couldn’t reach the registered agent, is serve “Drew from the mail room”, “Drew the receptionist” or “Drew the random employee of unknown title.” That’s apparently what happened here, which meant the landlord didn’t have strict compliance and, therefore, wasn’t entitled to its default judgment.

Whether you’re facing a landlord-tenant dispute or some other type of commercial litigation, details matter. Be sure you have legal counsel on your side that knows how to ensure that all of your litigation needs are met. The experienced South Florida commercial litigation attorneys at Stok Kon + Braverman have been offering that kind of reliable and effective representation for more than two decades, so contact us online or call (954) 237-1777 to schedule your consultation today.

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