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Griggs v. Faber

A-5735-06T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2009) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD-TENANT; EVICTION — The court rejects a challenge by thirty-one individual defendants in summary eviction actions where the tenants alleged that the Special Civil Part staff filed proofs of service because there is no such requirement to do so, and the service otherwise satisfied the court’s rules as well as due process requirements.

Thirty one individuals were defendants in summary eviction actions in a municipality. They sued the manager and former clerk of the Special Civil Part having jurisdiction over the municipality and four Special Civil Part officers who were responsible for service of initial process and of warrants of removal in summary eviction actions. The Clerk supervised these officers. The evicted tenants alleged that the officers did not attempt personal service or effective substitute service and inadequately filled out the information on the return of service section at the initial process in summary eviction actions and in the post-judgment stage of the proceedings. The complaint also alleged that the Special Civil Part clerical staff sent copies of the initial process to individuals charged in the summary eviction actions without inserting key information regarding where and when process was served.

The Law Division rejected all of the challenges to the procedures followed by the Civil Division relating to the service of process in summary eviction actions. It concluded that there was no requirement that the Special Civil Part staff file proof of service. The Court also held that “anecdotal evidence” about insufficient completion of forms was unpersuasive that global oversight was necessary. It believed that in individual cases, judges, not judiciary staff in the civil division manager’s office, would decide whether a particular proof of service was reasonable and complete. The former defendants in summary eviction actions appealed.

The Appellate Division affirmed for substantially the same reasons set forth in the Law Division’s opinion. The Court added that to satisfy the requirements of the Due Process Clause, process must be served by ordinary mail and also by either personal service or by affixing a copy of the summons and complaint on the door of the subject premises. It held that these dual forms of service must be considered in combination rather than separately. It also ruled that the alleged constitutional adequacy of posting where a civil part officer is unable to gain access to a tenant’s individual apartment and therefore posts the summons and complaint on a mailbox or outside door must be evaluated in light of the fact that service was also made by ordinary mail. Thus, it believed that these dual forms of service satisfied due process requirements. The Court noted, however, that officers serving notice should take every reasonable step to make personal service upon defendants. It opined that a determination of whether individual officers are properly performing their duties is a matter of judicial administration and was not a subject that was suitable for adjudication in this kind of lawsuit. Finally, the Court stated that to the extent a change is sought to the rules of court governing service of process and warrants of removal in summary eviction actions, it should be brought to the attention of the Supreme Court Committee on Special Civil Part Practice.

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