Personal Injury Lawyer

Have you ever heard, seen, or written the phrase, “You’ve been put on NOTICE,” or “You’re on NOTICE.”  The legal implications of notice are important and apply to every lawsuit. 

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that “reasonably calculated notice be provided, under all circumstances, to apprise (i.e., inform) interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections” (emphasis added).  As anyone can see, there’s a lot that goes into this due process guarantee.  How does it figure into civil procedure?

Civil procedure is the set of rules and standards that govern how courts conduct civil trials.  When initiating a civil lawsuit, the injured party must serve a complaint and a summons to the allegedly at-fault party.  A summons is a written notice that notifies the at-fault party and the court that the complaint has been served and the injured party is initiating the action.  The laws of civil procedure are written in tune with the U.S. Constitution.  As stated above, the Due Process Clause requires that an allegedly at-fault party be notified of a potential action and that they have the opportunity to defend themselves.  In line with the Due Process Clause, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(a) requires that a summons be served to the defendant. The summons and complaint serve as the notice to the at-fault party that they are being sued. 

So, what type of notice satisfies the Due Process Clause? The standard above requires that proper notice must convey sufficient information to notify the party of how and by when it should respond to the complaint and summons and must allow a reasonable time to appear.  This means that the following things: (1) the defendant must be given a complaint and a summons; (2) the complaint and summons must give the defendant information on how, when, and where to respond; and (3) it must be done in a timely manner.  

When a defendant is given a copy of the complaint and summons, this is called “service of process.”  Typically, a process server hands the defendant a copy of the complaint and summons. But, when a defendant is in another state or otherwise unavailable, the two documents can be mailed.  This is not the end all be all though, when notice is mailed to an owner and returned undelivered, additional reasonable steps to provide notice must be taken prior to an entry of judgment.  

Within the complaint, the defendant must be informed of what they are being sued for.  This means that the complaint must include facts surrounding the incident that gave rise to the suit and at least one cause of action – breach of contract, negligence, intentional tort, etc.  The complaint must also allege that the injured party has jurisdiction over the defendant.  The summons must adequately inform the defendant where, when, and how to respond to the complaint – i.e., with an answer, showing up in court, or the like.  Finally, this all must be done in a timely manner;  this means that the service cannot be given to the defendant the day before the defendant is required to answer or before the defendant is required to show up in court. 

All of these steps in initiating an action via civil procedure are directly in line with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and are intended to serve the amendment’s sole purpose – notice. If you are getting ready to go through the legal process, do not go through it alone — contact a lawyer near you for help.

Thanks to a personal injury lawyer from our friends at Eglet Adams for their insight of notice, due process, and civil procedure.