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Service of Proceedings: Problems arising from service of notices or proceedings at large or multi-occupancy developments (Ivanchev v Velli – 2020)

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In a case where a defendant stated that he did not receive the proceedings purported to have been served on him, the High Court considered the issues which may arise from service of notices and proceedings at large or multi-occupancy developments.

The background

Ivanchev v Velli [2020] concerned a claim by the claimant against the defendant for damages, an injunction, costs and an order pursuant to s12 of the Defamation Act 2013. The claim was brought in respect of libel, harassment and other allegations. The claimant attempted to serve the claim form on the defendant, but the defendant claimed to never have received it. No acknowledgement of service was given, and, at a hearing for default judgment, the defendant stated that he had only been made aware of the proceedings days before the hearing when a court order was emailed to him by the court.

Both parties live in the same development, a multi-occupancy residential block which comprised over 100 apartments and 16 floors. Secure mailboxes for all apartments were located in an entrance area. An initial letter of claim was sent by email to the defendant on 13th March 2020. Further chasers were sent by the claimant’s solicitor during March, requesting alternative addresses for service. A tracing agent identified an address at the block and the claimant attempted to serve the proceedings in April 2020, as a process server posted the claim form in the mailbox for the identified address. Following this, in June 2020 the claimant’s agent attended the property again to serve notice seeking default judgment. However, the claimant’s agent was informed that the defendant did not live at this address. On both occasions, the process server was unable to speak to the defendant at the address, which was occupied by a third party, and those at the property including security personnel were unwilling to supply the correct address.

The decision

The High Court found in favour of the defendant, concluding that the proceedings had not been validly served and dismissing the application for judgment in default.

The defendant had never occupied the apartment identified by the process server. Part 6.9 of the Civil Procedure Rules states that service must have been effected at the defendant’s ‘usual or last known residence’. The claimant had to take reasonable steps to ascertain the defendant’s current residence if they had reason to believe that the defendant no longer resided at the usual or last known residence. ‘Usual or last known residence’ requires that the receiving party should have lived at the address at some point; in this case, the claimant argued that the terminology could still apply whether or not the defendant had ever occupied the address.

Advice and action

This case addresses an interesting point which is very relevant to landlords, managing agents and freeholders of large multi-occupancy buildings, concerning service of proceedings and notices on individuals where there are many possible addresses.

Whilst each case is likely to turn on its facts, particularly considering the due diligence undertaken by the ‘serving party’, Ivanchev sets out some useful guidance on effecting good service and steps to take to ascertain a correct address:

· Where service is effected in person, the process server or other individual should speak to – or attempt to speak to – the occupier of the address to confirm their identity

· The process server should also speak to security or other staff on site to confirm whether the defendant is a resident of the building and, if so, his address

· If a claimant knows the defendant’s email address and the defendant can be contacted via email, the claimant should send an email requesting confirmation and detailing the information known by the claimant about the defendant’s address

· Where a defendant does not confirm his address, an application for alternative service of the claim form is appropriate

Service at an address never occupied by the defendant cannot be good service.

The High Court found in favour of the defendant, concluding that the proceedings had not been validly served. It was for the claimant to demonstrate a strong argument that it had identified the defendant’s ‘usual or last known residence’.

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