What is a Constructive Notice?

Alexis W.

Constructive notice is a legal concept that allows someone to sue a defendant even if that defendant hasn't been formally served with legal papers. Under the law in the United States, a person cannot be sued unless he has been notified of the lawsuit against him and given a chance to make legal arguments and defend himself. Most commonly, this notice is supposed to be in the form of actually serving the defendant with papers and having the defendant acknowledge the receipt of those papers. At times, however, it is not possible to actually find the person being sued. In such cases, constructive notice is sufficient as long as certain qualifications are met.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

To sue a person, the court that the lawsuit is brought in must have jurisdiction over the individuals involved in the case. This means there must be both personal and subject matter jurisdiction. A court has subject matter jurisdiction if the court has a vested interest in hearing the case, while the court has personal jurisdiction if the individual being sued has had sufficient contact with the state in which the court is located and if the person has been notified of the suit.

If a person cannot be notified because his current location is unknown, constructive notice is sufficient. In a property dispute, for example, if the person cannot be found, then it is sufficient to post notice of the lawsuit on the property and in the newspaper where the property is located. The individual is assumed to either visit his own property and/or to read the local paper in the area in which his property is located. Thus, under the law, he is assumed to have been notified as a result of this constructive notice and he is required by law to appear in court.

If a person does not appear in court when he has been summoned by a lawsuit and does not answer the summons, then the court can grant a default judgment against him. This means the court will automatically find in the plaintiff's favor. The defendant will then have a judgment against him which will generally not be reversed unless he can show that the constructive notice was insufficient. This means he would have to show that he could not possibly have seen the notifications made and that he was thus not given due process under the law and the original verdict cannot fairly stand.

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