In Melillo v. Heitland, the Minnesota Supreme Court considered whether personal service of a summons and complaint could be perfected by certified mail with a signed return receipt.
On August 1, 2008, Mr. Keith Melillo was injured in a car crash caused by Terry Heitland. Melillo intended on suing Heitland in court for his injuries. Melillo attempted to have Heitland served personally with the summons and complaint through the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department and a private process server. All attempts were unsuccessful. On June 6, 2014, Melillo sent the summons an complaint by certified mail to Heitland’s residence. Heitland signed a return receipt that was returned to Melillo’s attorney’s office on June 9, 2014. The complaint that was mailed to Heitland did not include a Notice of Acknowledgement of Service. On July 1, 2014, Melillo filed the complaint with the district court. Heitland filed an Answer affirmatively alleging insufficient service of process.
On August 1, 2014, the 6-year statute of limitations ran and Heitland filed a motion to dismiss. The district court concluded that Heitland had not been properly served and granted the motion to dismiss with prejudice. Melillo appealed. The appellate court reversed the district court’s ruling. Heitland then appealed to the supreme court.
The supreme court first reviews Rule 4.05 of the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure, which covers “service by mail.” However, the court finds that several of the requirements of service by mail under Rule 4.05 were not met. Most importantly, Melillo did not include an Acknowledgement of Service for Heitland to sign and return.
Melillo conceded that they did not accomplish service by mail under Rule 4.05, but instead argued that they accomplished personal service under Rule 4.03. Melillo contended that Heitland was personally served by the mail carrier who delivered the mail, and that the return receipt card, signed by Heitland, was “written admission or acknowledgment of the party served” under Rule 4.06.
The Court, however, notes that the process server must know that a summons and complaint are being served and intend to serve it, in order to perfect personal service. There was nothing in the record of this case to indicate that the mail carrier had any idea that he/she was serving a complaint.
The Court also holds that the certified mail return receipt that Heitland signed did not constitute “written admission or acknowledgment of the party served,” because Heitland was simply acknowledging receipt of an envelope when she signed the return receipt card. The rule requires that the served person acknowledged receipt of a summons and complaint, specifically. There was nothing in the record to demonstrate that Heitland know what she was signing for. This is the purpose of the Acknowledgement of Receipt of Service form that is required by Rule 4.05.
Finally, Melillo cited two prior cases that appeared to hold that service by certified mail and return receipt did constitute personal service in Minnesota. However, the Court notes that these cases were decided prior to amendments to the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure, which added Rule 4.05, governing “service by mail.”
The Court concluded that service of process by certified mail in this case did not constitute personal service, and the rules for service by mail were not followed by Melillo. The Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals and reinstated the district court’s judgment of dismissal with prejudice.