Follow the rules or you may lose! Proper Service is Fundamental.

In another case of follow the rules or you may lose no matter the merits of your case, the Halls filed a lawsuit against the Village of Ashwaubenon, apparently because they were unhappy with their property taxes.  See: Hall, v. Village of Ashwaubenon.   They mailed a copy of the lawsuit to the clerk, and the Halls also personally gave a copy to a Village employee.  To begin with, service by a party (the Halls in this case) is usually not permitted.  Secondly, service must be on the clerk or the village president.  It should be noted that they were acting without the benefit of an attorney. 

Whatever the actual merits of their lawsuit, the circuit court dismissed their lawsuit for improper service.  Serving the defendant in a lawsuit is a critical part of beginning a lawsuit, and without proper service, the suit will almost certainly be dismissed.  Even if the Halls had the best case in the world, they lost at step one.  They appealed, and the appeals court upheld the circuit court’s dismissal, saying “When a statute provides for service that confers jurisdiction over a party, there must be strict compliance with statutory service requirements even though the consequences for failure to do so may appear to be harsh.”  Although it may appear harsh on the surface in some cases, if you are going to sue someone, letting them know is a fundamental aspect of our legal system – no secret trials, no secret verdicts.  Defendants have a fundamental right to be made aware of the claims against them, and to be given a reasonable opportunity to respond.

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