Getting good return of service is extremely important to winning a personal injury lawsuit under Missouri law. Service of process is a sine qua non of winning a lawsuit. And, the requirements for getting good service are much stricter than they may appear.
The Missouri Court of Appeals recently came down with a decision that makes clear that the requirements for good service in Missouri are statutory and strictly construed.
In Marti v. Concrete Coring Co. of N. Am. the Court of Appeals examined a case where a Plaintiff got what they thought was good service. There the Plaintiff filed their claim in St. Louis County Court for negligence. The allegation was that the Defendant’s employee had negligently dropped a piece of concrete on the employee’s hand, causing serious and permanent injuries.
After filing suit and serving the Defendant, the Defendant did not show up to Court. The Plaintiff proceeded to collect a default judgement pursuant to Rule 74.05.
When the Plaintiff tried to collect on the default judgement, the Defendant entered and filed a motion to set aside. They argued that the Plaintiff’s return of service was improper in that it did not conform with the requirements of Rule 54.22(a).
The trial court sided with the Defendant because the return of service had errors. The return apparently did not fill out the section indicating that the summons had been served on the “person in charge of defendant’s business office” among other things.
The Court of Appeals held that the return was ineffective because it did not indicate that the person upon whom the service had been rendered was in fact a person qualified to receive service pursuant to Rule 54.13(b)(3).
As a result of the ineffective service of process, the return was set aside and the case was remanded to proceed.
The Court of Appeals did indicate that the trial court has discretion to permit an amended return containing all of the required elements to be filed.
Given this law, it is highly recommended that Plaintiff’s lawyers looking to win judgements make sure their returns are good. Failure to do so can result in catastrophic errors, including possibly separate torts against the law firm from a defendant for improper garnishment if the judgement is based upon a defective return of service.
The case is Marti v. Concrete Coring Co. of N. Am., 630 S.W.3d 920 (Mo. Ct. App. 2021).