WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO SATISFY THE DILIGENT INQUIRY REQUIREMENT OF MRCP 4?

August 16, 2011 § 2 Comments

We’ve talked here, here and here about MRCP 4 and its requirements for obtaining process by publication. The prerequisite to any process by publication is “diligent inquiry” to discover whether the party is to be found in Mississippi, and, if not, her post office address.

No process by publication can issue until there is an affidavit filed stating that diligent inquiry has been made. The one who claims to have made the inquiry is required to testify to the efforts involved. It is in the court’s discretion to determine whether the inquiry was indeed diligent.

So what exactly is diligent inquiry? To what extent is a party required to search out the whereabouts of the opposing party? I will confess to a certain degree of inconsistency on this issue on my part, due primarily to the fact that in Mississippi we do not have a template of authority or guidelines to go by. I do always question the witness about measures taken, and I am usually satisfied that he or she has done all that can be done.

Recently, it came to my attention that Florida has a form certificate of diligent inquiry that is required in all such cases. The affiant must check all of the categories of effort that apply. Here are the guts of the Florida certificate:

  • United States Post Office inquiry through Freedom of Information Act for current address or any relocations.
  • Last known employment of respondent, including name and address of employer. You should also ask for any addresses to which W-2 Forms were mailed, and, if a pension or profit-sharing plan exists, then for any addresses to which any pension or plan payment is and/or has been mailed.
  • Unions from which respondent may have worked or that governed particular trade or craft.
  • Regulatory agencies, including professional or occupational licensing.
  • Names and addresses of relatives and contacts with those relatives, and inquiry as to respondent’s last known address. You are to follow up any leads of any addresses where respondent may have moved. Relatives include, but are not limited to: parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, grandparents, great-grandparents, former in-laws, stepparents, stepchildren.
  • Information about the respondent’s possible death and, if dead, the date and location of the death.
  • Telephone listings in the last known locations of respondent’s residence.
  • Internet at http://www.switchboard.com or other internet people finder.
  • Law enforcement arrest and/or criminal records in the last known residential area of respondent.
  • Highway Patrol records in the state of respondent’s last known address.
  • Department of Motor Vehicle records in the state of respondent’s last known address.
  • Department of Corrections records in the state of respondent’s last known address.
  • Title IV-D (child support enforcement) agency records in the state of respondent’s last known address.
  • Hospitals in the last known area of respondent’s residence.
  • Utility companies, which include water, sewer, cable TV, and electric, in the last known area of respondent’s residence.
  • Letters to the Armed Forces of the U.S. and their response as to whether or not there is any information about respondent.

Some of these measures seem somewhat extravagant to me; a Freedom of Information Act request, for example, seems a bit much. Certain other listed measures would be futile due to privacy and HIPAA concerns, in my opinion.

The list, though, does have much to commend it in that it illustrates the extent of information available to find someone. In the era of internet, with Google and the like, the old “I asked his momma and she doesn’t know where he is” just doesn’t cut it anymore. The more extensive the search, the more different measures employed, the more likely it is that the court will find the effort to have been diligent.

I heard an uncontested divorce a while back in which the plaintiff had published process based on a claim that she did not know where the defendant was, and was not to be found in Mississippi. She testified about all the relatives she had talked to who claimed not to know where he was, either. In the course of her testimony, she let slip that the last she had known he was in prison in Texas. I interrupted and asked how long his prison term was, and she responded that he should still be there because he had been sentenced to something like 20 years. I pointed out to the attorney that of all people on the planet a prisoner should be among the easiest to locate, and I continued the hearing to a later date for that purpose. The attorney easily located the man on the internet, and she and her client returned to court a couple of months later and proceeded on personal process. 

My suggestion is that you don’t file that diligent inquiry affidavit unless and until you are satisfied that your client has, indeed, made a bona fide effort to locate the other party. You may wind up doing some of the work yourself.

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