MS Supreme Court Rules on Process Servers
The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that an individual process server, notary public, and an owner of a process serving company were denied their constitutional due process rights when a Chancellor cited them for civil contempt and assessed an $88,500 sanction against them, jointly and severally, for allegedly filing a false affidavit of service. In addition, they were ordered to write letters of apology to the court Chancellors, enjoined them from serving process, and ordered them to be incarcerated on weekends until the sanctions were paid.
The case was a paternity or child-support case from Mississippi Department of Human Services (“DHS”). The server allegedly served a woman who was incarcerated on the date and time set forth in the Affidavit of Service.
The Chancellor issued orders to show cause and subpoenas instanter (to bring records immediately) to a hearing. The $88,500 sanction ultimately levied against the defendants served as a multiplier of the number of service made over the course of the year.
Although the Chancellor cited the defendants for civil contempt, the Supreme Court concluded otherwise, and explained that the sanctions and orders amounted to criminal, not civil contempt.
Because the orders were criminal, the defendants were entitled to notice of the charges against them, and the Chancellor should have recused himself from ruling on the matter.
The Supreme Court vacated the contempt judgments, and remanded the case back to the trial court.