Monday, July 12, 2010

Fourth District Quashes Service of Process on Bank Teller

In Bank of America, N.A. v. Bornstein (4D09-4007), the Fourth District reversed service of process that had been acomplished on a teller at a Bank of America branch.  The court described the facts as follows:
Bornstein obtained and served a writ of garnishment on Bank of America, commanding the bank to serve an answer on Bornstein’s counsel regarding whether the bank was indebted to the defendants. The return of service stated that the process server served the writ of garnishment at a Bank of America branch in West  Palm Beach o n “Felicia Assaroupe as Teller,” who said she was authorized to accept on behalf of the person to whom the process was directed.
Bank of America moved to quash service of process for failure to comply with sections 48.081 and 655.0201, Florida Statutes (2009). Neither of the statutes permits service of process on a national association through a branch employee.
With regard to the legal analysis, the court stated:
The standard of review of a non-final order that determines the jurisdiction of a person is de novo...Statutes governing service of process should be strictly construed, and valid service on a corporation may be effected only by complying with such statutes...Absent strict compliance, the court lacks personal jurisdiction over the corporation.
The object of section 48.081 is to have service made upon someone who is held responsible by the corporation, “and it contemplates that service shall be made, whenever possible, upon the more responsible officers before resorting to service upon one of the inferior officers or agents of the corporation.”...“To obtain personal jurisdiction over a corporate defendant, a return of process showing service on an inferior officer of a corporation must show that all superior officers designated in the statute were absent when service was attempted.”
We conclude that the trial court erred in denying the motion to quash because service was improper in that it failed to comply with the applicable statutes and case law. Neither the original nor the amended return of service showed the absence of the statutorily prescribed superior classes of persons who could have been served. The original return of service made no mention of the absence of any such persons. The amended return of service noted that an officer was present in the bank, but the process server served a bank teller, rather than the officer.  The bank teller did not meet the definition of a business agent.


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