Supreme Court rules on proper way to serve court documents

CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Supreme Court voided, reversed and remanded a default decree with instructions to vacate in its Tuesday opinion.

The case, Cheryl Tarter v. Charles Tarter, was out of Laramie County District Court, with Judge Catherine Rogers presiding. The case stems from a divorce between the couple, and the failure of Charles Tarter to properly serve Cheryl Tarter with divorce papers.

The district court entered a default decree, stating Cheryl Tarter was properly served with the divorce. However, the Supreme Court found this wasn't the case.

In its opinion, the high court examined the issue of whether the default decree against Cheryl Tarter is void due to a failure to serve by publication.

Cheryl Tarter was living in Michigan, and Charles Tarter was still living in Laramie County. A Michigan server failed to correctly process and serve Cheryl Tarter with the divorce papers five times. Charles Tarter also tried to mail the papers, but the certified mail was returned.

Charles Tarter also tried to publish a legal notice in the Pine Bluffs Post newspaper, but the high court said since the publication was never mailed or given to Cheryl Tarter, it doesn't serve as a proper notification.

In her appeal of the decree, Cheryl Tarter said her ex-husband didn't comply with publication requirements, didn't send the papers to her Michigan address known to him or state when a return answer from her was needed.

The high court agreed with Cheryl Tarter, and stated her ex-husband didn't comply with the requirement to serve her papers in four ways. The Supreme Court also noted its long-held rules of strict compliance with the requirement to serve papers.

Failure to follow the strict compliance means the district court doesn't have jurisdiction over the person who wasn't served, and any judgment entered against a person who isn't served isn't binding, according to the opinion.

In the Pine Bluffs publication, Charles Tarter didn't state whether he knew his ex-wife's last known address, which he was required to do. Even if he didn't know her last known address, he also failed to state this in the publication.

The publication also incorrectly referenced Wyoming state statute, causing it to not comply with the state laws concerning serving someone with papers. He also never filed a post-publication affidavit that's required by law.

He claimed he wasn't required to file this affidavit because of his numerous attempts to serve his ex-wife and her multiple opportunities to participate in proceedings. The high court said while his frustration may be justifiable, it doesn't excuse noncompliance with the law.