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Can You Serve Someone By Email?

| Oct 28, 2023 | Social Security Disability

According to the Court Statistics Project, there were over 12 million incoming civil cases in the United States in 2021. Filing one of these lawsuits requires the plaintiff to serve the defendant with legal documents that detail the claim made against them and provide the date, time, and location of the court hearing in which they can defend themselves. Learn the answer to “Can you serve someone by email?” and explore how a seasoned Tennessee attorney from Shepherd and Long, PC, can aid individuals who wish to bring a legal claim against another person by calling 865-383-3118.

What Is a Court Summons?

A summons refers to a court document notifying a defendant that a plaintiff is suing them. The court cannot hear a legal case until the plaintiff serves the defendant with the summons. According to the Tennessee State Courts, a valid summons includes the following information:

  • Signature and date from the court clerk
  • Information outlining that the State of Tennessee issued the summons
  • The defendant’s name and contact information
  • The county and court’s name
  • The action’s title and file number
  • The name and address of the plaintiff’s attorney or the plaintiff’s own name and address if they have no attorney
  • The date and time that the court requires the defendant to attend to provide a defense against the claim
  • A notification that if the defendant fails to attend the hearing and provide a defense, the court will rule against them automatically, requiring them to provide the relief outlined in the claim

Can Legal Documents Be Emailed?

Individuals and businesses may use emails to send legally binding documents. Sending contracts via email is a common practice and generally held to be legal, provided the documents thus conveyed contain the essential elements of a contract. In this scenario, this includes the contract’s terms and conditions, an agreement of these terms and conditions by both parties, the detailing of any rewards or payments, and a clear intention that each party expects to observe the contract’s terms.

Can You Serve Someone by Email in Tennessee?

According to the Tennessee Bar Association, the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure do allow the serving of papers when sent as a PDF from one attorney to another via email. When serving papers in this fashion, it is necessary to include language in the email’s subject line that makes the contents clear in order to highlight the importance of the email.

However, plaintiffs who opt for this approach also need to post or hand deliver a certificate notifying the recipient that they have received an email with a court summons, effectively still requiring the sending of a hard copy version of the summons. Such certificates should include these details:

  • The action’s caption and file number
  • The sender’s contact information, including name, address, email, and telephone number
  • The electronic document’s title and number of pages
  • Each recipient’s email address
  • The email’s time/date stamp
  • Instructions to follow if the recipient has not received the email

Acquire a more detailed response to “Can you serve someone by email?” and discover how a seasoned Tennessee family law or personal injury attorney can help those looking to bring a claim in court by arranging a consultation with Shepherd and Long, PC.

Do Emails Count as Written Notice?

The past three decades have seen a proliferation of electronic forms of communication, including the gradual acceptance of digital file submissions for formal legal documents. The ubiquity of emails, in particular, means that individuals often question whether they can use them to legally provide written notice to a recipient. Many courts handle all their documents electronically, and several states acknowledge the validity of electronic signatures. However, a number of factors may influence whether an email counts as written notice, including:

  • Contract terms: For communications related to the fulfillment of a contract, if the contract itself clearly states that an email is an acceptable form of written notice, the email will likely count as written notice. The same reasoning is also likely to apply if the contract specifically excludes written notice in the form of an email.
  • Confirmation of receipt: If the document does not stipulate whether an email counts as written notice, it is vital that the sender can prove the recipient received the email. A reply to an email would demonstrate this, but this becomes more challenging when there is no response from the recipient. While it is unclear whether a court will accept these as proof, due to the lack of legal cases addressing this issue, obtaining read and delivery receipts through email clients is a widespread precautionary practice.
  • Email substance and intent: Making the email’s substance and intent as clear as possible may also help to demonstrate that the recipient received written notice, achieved by immediately addressing the email’s purpose in the subject and at the very beginning of the email’s main body.

How Is a Summons Served?

The requirements for how a court summons may be served depend on state laws, with some states only allowing delivery via a specialist courier service authorized to deliver legal documents unless specific circumstances dictate that this is not possible. Usually, another adult must directly hand the summons to the defendant or post it to their address of residence or employment in an envelope that does not identify it as a court summons. Many firms specialize in recruiting a third party to serve summons papers while also providing the court with proof of delivery.

When using a firm to serve summons papers, the firm delivering the summons cannot have any involvement with the lawsuit. In addition, if the defendant lives in a different state or country, it might be necessary to follow certain court procedures when serving these papers, especially as, under these conditions, the defendant is more likely to contest the validity of the summons. Since the improperly executed serving of a summons can lead the defense to bring a motion to quash a summons or void a judgment, it is imperative to effectively complete this step in bringing a legal claim.

Contact a Tennessee Personal Injury and Family Law Attorney Today

In Tennessee, it is necessary to directly serve opposing parties with legal papers, which plaintiffs can achieve in several ways that do not necessarily involve physically interacting with the defendants. Consider contacting a Tennessee personal injury or family law attorney to understand more about the different methods of serving a court summons. Gain a more detailed answer to “Can you serve someone by email?” and find out how Shepherd and Long, PC can assist those wanting to file a claim by contacting 865-383-3118 to schedule your free initial consultation.