Valid certified mail service was made more difficult to accomplish and prove during the COVID pandemic, when mail carriers were allowed to write “COVID 19” on the return card rather than physically delivering the certified mail. The Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure were amended effective August 14, 2023, to provide parties in both the circuit and district courts with the ability to use a commercial carrier for service of process as an alternative to certified mail.
Rule 4(i)(3) allows this to be accomplished a couple of different ways:
1. Clerk Initiates Service
First, the plaintiff may file a written request with the clerk to initiate service by commercial carrier. In that case, the clerk must use one of the commercial carriers approved by the Administrative Director of Courts pursuant to Rule 45 of the Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration. If the clerk initiates service, the clerk shall deliver a copy of the process and complaint to the commercial carrier in an envelope addressed to the person to be served, shall pay the appropriate shipping costs, and shall provide instructions to the carrier to provide the clerk a written or electronic receipt reflecting to whom the process and document was delivered, the written or electronic signature of the recipient, the date of delivery, the address where delivered, and the person or entity effecting delivery. The rule requires the clerk to forthwith enter the fact of delivery to commercial carrier on the docket and make an entry when the delivery receipt is returned.
2. Attorney/Party Initiates Service
Alternatively, the attorney (or party) filing the complaint may initiate service by commercial carrier. In that case, the attorney may use any foreign or domestic business entity that meets certain requirements as set out in 4(i)(3)(A)(ii) – the carrier isn’t a party, has the preliminary purpose of delivery letters and parcels of that type, will deliver the sender a written or electronic receipt showing to whom the process and complaint were delivered, the written or electronic signature of the recipient, the date of delivery, the address where delivered, and the person or entity effecting delivery.
Under this method, the attorney will file the process and document to be served and deliver the filed copy to the carrier in an envelope addressed to the person to be served, providing the required shipping costs and instructions to the carrier to provide the attorney or party with a written or electronic signature of the recipient, the date of delivery, the address where delivered, and the person or entity effecting delivery. The attorney shall immediately file with the court an “Affidavit of Delivery to a Commercial Carrier of Process and Complaint” verifying that a filed copy of the process and document to be served has been delivered to a commercial carrier in accordance with the rule. The attorney must file a “Proof of Service by Commercial Carrier” that identifies the commercial carrier and certain specified information about the date, method, and proof of service.
Note that the rate negotiated by the Administrative Office of Courts for commercial carrier delivery may be less expensive than the rate an individual attorney or party is charged by the carrier.
Service by commercial carrier is complete based on the date of delivery evidenced on the written or electronic receipt containing the information noted above. Rule 4(e) does not apply to refusals of attempted service by commercial carrier. Thus, if the intended recipient refuses delivery by commercial carrier, the serving party must reattempt service by commercial carrier or a different form of service.
New forms have been created for use when serving someone by commercial carrier: New Form 1C, added as Appendix I to Rule 4, should be used as the summons; New Form 1D is the Proof of Service by Commercial Carrier” and contains the information required by Rule 4(i)(3)(C).
NOTE: This article is informational and IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR READING THE RULE. Read the Rule: https://judicial.alabama.gov/docs/library/rules/cv4.pdf.