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Question of the Week: Can I Use Online Services for a Lawsuit?

You can file and monitor lawsuits online, and you can see the details of other people’s lawsuits online, if you want. Click on a service title below to go to its website.

  • AlaFile lets you file lawsuit papers online, just like the lawyers. You will also receive email notice of any documents file by the other side, the process server, or the Court, and can view those online. It is designed to work on Internet Explorer 11.0 or Microsoft Edge, and does not work well with Chrome, FireFox, Safari, or other browsers.

  • Just One Look lets you see all of the documents and Court orders in any case at all, whether it is yours or not. If you have a lawyer and want to follow the case progress, Just One Look is for you. This is also good if you want to see someone else’s forms so you can use them as a guide, or if you are just nosy about your neighbor’s auto accident lawsuit. Nobody gets tipped off when you “look.”
    • Currently, it is $9.99 per case you want to look up, with a free copy of the docket sheet showing everything that has happened. If you want copies of documents, it is $5 for the first 20 pages, and 50 cents per page after that. You pay the $9.99 each time you look up a case, even if it is the same one as the day before. This is the service you use to get forms or satisfy your curiosity.
    • For lifetime monitoring of a particular case, you can see everything filed and receive notices whenever something new happens. This is the service you use if you have a lawyer, but want to keep track of lawsuit progress. The fee is $19.99 for District Court (where evictions are filed) and $29.99 for Circuit Court (regular lawsuits like ejectments, auto accidents, divorce, etc.)

  • AlaCourt is a monthly subscription service for higher volume research. It is currently $84.00 per month.

A warning, though: You can file your own eviction lawsuits if (1) you own the property in your own personal name, and not an LLC or corporation or trust OR (2) you are a lawyer. Unfortunately, even if you own 100% of the company that owns the real estate, that is still one person (you) representing another person (the company) in court, and for that you need a law license. The danger of doing this wrong is not some judge speaking sternly to you if you get caught. The danger is that any turnout order will be void and your tenant can sue you for illegally throwing them and their stuff out on the street.

I hope this helps you out. Many lawyers are reluctant to send copies of court documents to clients because it usually results in phone calls and requests for explanation about everything. That’s education, not practicing law. I LOVE education, but most lawyers prefer practicing law, and most clients resist pay $300 to $400 an hour for education. So, monitor your cases (or file your own) and turn to www.AlabamaLandlords.com and/or www.TaxSales-Alabama.com for your educational needs!

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Proposed Change Re: Evictions

Representative Pringle has introduced HB65 in the 2020 legislative session, to clarify the procedure necessary to serve lawsuit papers in a residential eviction.

Currently, the law says “A copy of the notice shall be personally served upon the defendant. If the sheriff or constable is unable to serve the defendant personally, service may be had by delivering the notice to any person who is sui juris residing on the premises, or if after reasonable effort no person is found residing on the premises, by posting a copy of the notice on the door of the premises….” The posting on the door is called “nail and mail service” or “post and mail service” and eliminates the need to actually find the tenant and hand them the lawsuit papers.

The new law adds the words “at the premises” so it would say “shall be personally served upon the defendant at the premises.” It also deletes the words “after reasonable effort” so the new version would say, “if no person is found residing…” That avoids all the issues of people being able to argue in court about whether the process server made reasonable effort or not. In other words, one stop does it all. If nobody is home, then straight to nail and mail service instead of multiple trips to make “reasonable effort” that “no person is found residing on the premises…”

I think this is a good change. If you agree, contact Representative Pringle at chris.pringle@alhouse.gov and tell him about your support. Be sure to mention where you live, so he can share your comments with your own elected official. (Sorry, I don’t seem to be able to create a clickable email link. Just copy and paste his address into your email message.)

Sarah Taggart

Sarah Taggart, an evictions lawyer (website HERE) disagrees, and thinks the bill is a bad idea. She says that lawyers and judges understand the rules without the change. In her opinion, the change is not necessary. As a result, it might only focus attention and cause tenant lawyers to argue there IS a problem with the current law. Then it’s bad news if the bill does not pass. She thinks the bill might also encourage amendments that make things worse, not better. Sarah reminded me about the mobile home industry introducing a bill several years ago to shorten the default notice time period from 7 calendar days to only 3 calendar days. Consumer protection groups latched on to that and got an amendment passed that increased the time to 7 business days. If I can paraphrase Sarah’s opinion, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

What do you think?

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Question of Week: Dangerous Pet

A tenant has a pet or a disability animal that is allowed under the lease. But, the lease says that if the animal causes any injury or damage, the landlord can revoke the permission. According to the landlord who called me about this today, the tenant’s dog injured someone who tried to intervene when it attacked a much smaller neighborhood dog. The little dog was also severely injured, but survived.

Can the landlord give notice that the tenant’s dog will have to be removed?

Yes, the landlord can AND under its lease clause giving it that right, it almost MUST give notice. It makes no difference if it is a disability animal. The reasonable accommodation request for a disability animal is to allow the animal despite a rule against that. All other rules that protect property, people, and humane animal treatment, must be obeyed or the tenant will be in default.

If the landlord does not revoke permission, and the dog injures someone else, guess who will be sued? The landlord, of course! That is because the landlord could have prevented the second injury by invoking lease protections to remove the animal. When it had knowledge the dog was dangerous, but did nothing within its power to remove it, then the landlord could become liable, also. It would be different if the landlord had no power under its lease to do anything. In that case, it would be liable only if it renewed that tenant’s lease, with the dog.

Second issue, how should this be done? The landlord should give the tenant written notice to remove the dog. It should quote the relevant lease clause, and should include a narrative about the damage and injuries caused by the dog. Because it is a dangerous animal situation, the landlord should require the tenant to IMMEDIATELY remove the animal to a boarding facility or other location, and not allow it to return under any circumstances, even for short visits. The landlord should give a deadline of two business days from the date of the notice, giving the exact date. The landlord should notify the neighbors, so they will be extra cautious until the deadline.

If the tenant does not remove the dog by the deadline, then that is an event of default. The landlord should give a “7 Business Day Notice of Default and Opportunity to Cure.” It should describe failure to remove the animal as the default, and removal of the animal as the cure. Again, keep the neighbors informed, so they know to be careful. If the dog is not removed by the deadline, then the landlord must start eviction immediately. For its own protection, it cannot grant any extensions.

For more information, check our classes on Landlord/Tenant Law, and on Fair Housing.