Venue, Service & the Modern World


The SJC issued a decision yesterday which rules on two interesting points, one relating to venue and the other what efforts need to be made to effect service to meet due process requirements:

On the venue front, the SJC held that 14 M.R.S. s. 501 allows a plaintiff to sue an out-of-state defendant in either the county where the cause of action arose or the plaintiff lives.  The defendant argued that venue lies only in the county where the cause of action arose.  Section 501 provides that "when the parties live in the State" the suit can be filed "in the county where any plaintiff or defendant lives" and "when no plaintiff lives in the State in the county where any defendant lives; or in either case any such action may be brought in the county where the cause of action took place."  The SJC read the ambiguous "when the parties" language to mean when either party lives in the state, not all of them.  

As a practical matter, while the federal venue statute (28 USC s1391) focuses [explicitly] on the defendant, there's more of a difference between suing someone in Maine versus California then within Maine.  If a defendant lives outside Maine, does he really care that much if the action is filed in York or Cumberland County?  Yes, Aroostook County may make a difference; but then the defendant can always seek a transfer of venue.  And, beyond practicalities, the SJC's interpretation is probably what the Legislature meant.

On the service front, to some extent the decision is very fact based because the notice was published in a location where the defendant apparently had no ties except he had gone to college there (and moved on).  Such publication was not enough (accompanied by some other searches).

More broadly, however, the SJC signalled its recognition that the world has changed and fewer and fewer people read newspapers (see paragraph 25 of the decision).  The lesson here is that plaintiff's counsel needs to be vigorous in alternative methods of attempting to find and notify the defendant, and be very wary of reliance on that teeny weeny print in an old fashioned newspaper, particularly one without a broad circulation. 

Perhaps this issue will die as everyone on the face of the earth gets on Facebook and My Space and can otherwise be tracked electronically.