What Is an Actual Notice?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An actual notice is a legal notification that is directly served to the recipient in some way, to assure that this person really got the notice. This contrasts with constructive notice, where information is made available in a way that a recipient could find it, but does not directly receive it. For some kinds of legal proceedings, actual notice is required to move forward with the case, and a case may be dismissed for lack of notice if the recipient did not get the information.

Woman posing
Woman posing

In actual notice, information is verifiably handed to the intended recipient. Personal service, where a process server delivers legal documents into someone's hands, is an example of actual notice. Posting a notice on someone's door, by contrast, is constructive notice, because there is a chance the recipient might not get it, for example, if that person uses a different door to enter a structure, or doesn't live or work there anymore.

While oral notice, as when an employee declares an intent to leave a job, can be a form of actual notice, written notice is recommended for liability reasons. An employee might tell a supervisor about plans to leave work and agree to follow up with a formal written notice restating this information. This can provide protection for both parties in the event of a dispute. Likewise, when a tenant reports a problem with a property orally to the landlord, the tenant may also send a written notice to reduce the risk of confusion or conflict in the future.

When the law requires actual notice to move forward with a case, a process server may be a good option for delivery. Process servers can research recipients and will make every effort to serve legal documents within a given time frame. If this is not possible, the server can report to the court and provide information about what was done in an attempt to guarantee delivery.

Constructive notice can be sufficient in some cases. Government agencies, for example, are required to post notices of contracts up for bid, but they do not need to deliver an actual notice to every single contractor qualified to do the work. They can run the notice in a newspaper, or post it on a noticeboard, making the public aware of the contract in a form of constructive notice. Contractors with interest in such jobs would know where to look for notices so they can find out about contracts up for bid in a timely fashion.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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