Two recent court decisions from the Third District Court of Appeal highlight the importance of proper service of process. These two decisions are also powerful rulings that could be used to aid homeowners in defending a foreclosure if they have not been properly served with the lawsuit.
Service of process is the procedure used to give legal notice to a person (such as a defendant/homeowner in a foreclosure action) of a court’s exercise of its jurisdiction over that person so as to enable that person to respond to the proceeding before the court. Typically, notice is furnished by delivering a set of court documents (called “process”) to the person to be served. Once service of process has been properly perfected, by the Plaintiff (such as a bank filing a foreclosure action against a homeowner), over the defendant (such as a homeowner), then the Court has jurisdiction to enter orders in the case. Such court orders could include the sale of the property. But the Court cannot sell the property unless service of process has been properly perfected.
In two very favorable rulings for homeowners facing foreclosure, the Third District Court of Appeal recently concluded that the bank could not sell the property at issue because the bank had failed to properly serve the defendant homeowners with the necessary legal papers to begin the foreclosure.
In the first case, Opella vs. Bayview, the Third District Court of Appeal concluded that a foreclosure judgment needed to be reversed because the lender failed to properly notify the property owner of the legal action. The Appellate Court ruled that service of process was done improperly and that the lender could not proceed with the lawsuit given that service of process was faulty. The Third District Court of Appeal also referred the matter to the Florida Bar for further investigation to determine if the Bank’s lawyers violated any rules governing the practice of law in Florida.
The second case, Bennett vs. Christiana Bank & Trust Company, also involved allegations of improper service of process. And in that case, the Third District Court of Appeal again concluded that service of process was faulty.
In Bennett, the Third District Court of Appeal concluded that leaving lawsuit documents at a homeowner’s front door is insufficient notification and in violation of Florida’s service of process laws, and voided the final judgment.
These two cases illustrate how banks, and their lawyers, are often in a rush to commence legal proceedings to foreclose on your home. In light of all the “robo signing” allegations, and on going investigation launched by Florida’s Attorney General, it should come as no surprise that banks are also often cutting corners to perfect service of process.
However, even if you believe that the legal papers, and lawsuit, were not properly provided to you, if you fail to respond within 20 days, or otherwise act in a timely manner, you will be in a default situation where your defenses may be all waived and it will be difficult for you to assert any valid defense that you may have to defend the case. And that includes the defense that you have not been properly served with process and the legal papers.
Therefore, if you have received any papers that you feel may be a lawsuit filed against you then you need to take immediate action to protect your rights. There are many alternatives to foreclosure, and often times it just takes proper planning to properly navigate against the potential pitfalls. And one of the best ways to plan is to consult with a foreclosure defense lawyer. Help is often available to those who seek it.
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