Certified mail, return receipt requested, delivery restricted to the addressee (referred to in this article as certified mail), is proper service in legal actions, except where a party is incarcerated in a Department of Corrections (DOC) institution. [12 O.S. § 2004(C)(2)] Certified mail is used when service to the AOR or by Acknowledgment and Waiver is not appropriate or is unsuccessful. Certified mail is usually not appropriate if case history indicates a low probability of acceptance of service by mail.
Once the party is located, staff sets the hearing far enough in the future for service to occur. A best practice is to set the hearing at least eight weeks from the date of mailing. This will allow time to send the pleadings to a process server if the certified mail is returned as unclaimed or unsuccessful.
Service by certified mail is not considered good service unless all of the following requirements are met:
- The proof of receipt shows that delivery was restricted to the addressee, and
- The person to be served actually signed the receipt.
One of three things will occur when serving by certified mail:
- the green card or electronic receipt will show delivery,
- the unopened envelope will come back with a message stating unclaimed or unsuccessful, or
- the unopened envelope will come back with a message stating rejected or refused.
Parties who reject or refuse service by certified mail are considered properly served and a default order may be entered. [12 O.S. § 2004(C)(2)(c)] Upon receipt of the proof showing the service was refused, and at least ten (10) days before obtaining a default order, CSS staff:
- sends the legal documents to the party by regular mail with a Notice of Intent to Proceed After Refusal of Service (GN16). The Notice of Intent to Proceed After Refusal of Service notifies the party that despite the refusal, the legal action will proceed and a default order will be entered unless the party appears for hearing;
- files the Notice of Intent to Proceed After Refusal of Service with the court; and
- prepares and files with the court a Return/Affidavit of Service (GN3) and attaches the envelope showing it was refused. The Return/Affidavit of Service must also show the date and place of any subsequent mailing.
There are two methods used to send certified mail through the United States Postal Service (USPS):
- the green card method and
- the online method which provides an electronic receipt from the USPS website.
With both methods the post office will return a notice of receipt that includes the date delivery was made, the name and signature of the person who received the mailing, and the delivery address. USPS charges a separate fee for each service (certified mail, return receipt, and restricted delivery). Since the online method costs less, it should be used unless the office is having technical difficulties that cannot be resolved.
Each method for serving by certified mail is outlined below:
GREEN CARD METHOD
This method uses a USPS green card form that is attached to the envelope. Once the envelope is prepared and mailed, the USPS representative will deliver the envelope to the designated address and have the addressee sign the green card showing service was accepted.
Do the following to send the document via certified mail, restricted delivery, return receipt requested:
- Prepare envelope.
- Address envelope to proper court or party.
NOTE: Each party to be served must have a separate envelope even when two or more parties are at the same address. Due process requires proof of service for each person.
- Insert the documents to be served, for example, a copy of a Notice of Paternity and Support Obligation (NOPSO).
- Write or stamp on the front of the envelope in red: “RESTRICTED DELIVERY”.
- Address envelope to proper court or party.
- Prepare Certified Mail Receipt (Postal form PS 3800). See example.
- Fill out the name and address of addressee.
- Attach the numbered portion (green with white numbers) next to the return address at the top of the envelope.
- Beneath the certified mail sticker on the envelope, write “Return Receipt Requested”.
- Write the case number on the white portion.
- Staple the white portion to the document retained in the case file.
- Prepare a green postal card (Domestic Return Receipt, Postal form PS 3811).
- Write or stamp your office name and address on sender side of form.
- Write the case number in the lower left corner.
- Check the “Restricted Delivery” box.
- In the “Article Addressed To” box, fill in the name and address of the person to whom the envelope is being mailed.
- In the “Article Number” box, write the certified mail number.
- In the “Service Type” box, check “Certified”.
- After sealing the envelope, attach green card to back of envelope.
- Place correct amount of postage on envelope, including additional fees, and mail. Be sure to include the extra fee for “Restricted Delivery.”
- When green card is returned by the post office, attach to the same document to which the matching Certified Mail Receipt was attached.
One of three things will occur once certified mail is issued when using a green card:
- the green card will be returned with a signature and date of the person served,
- the envelope will come back as unclaimed or unsuccessful, or
- the envelope will come back as rejected or refused.
- Once the green card is returned, verify the party signed and accepted service within the required timeframe of the action.
- Complete the Return/Affidavit of Service (GN3).
- Make a copy of the green card. Attach the copy to the Return/Affidavit of Service.
- File the service in the appropriate court.
- Consult your state’s attorney if more time is needed to allow the party adequate response time to the action. He or she may direct you to prepare an Order to Continue Hearing. The Order to Continue Hearing is a Word document and can be obtained from your local supervisor.
Service Unclaimed or Unsuccessful:
- If the entire envelope is returned as unclaimed or unsuccessful, check for proper locate on the party.
- Proceed with personal service if the address is valid.
- File an Order to Continue Hearing if more time is needed to serve the party within the required timeframe.
ONLINE METHOD WITH USPS
The online method for service is very similar to the green card method. CSS staff prepares the envelope using a USPS electronic receipt form rather than a green card. The difference between the two methods is the steps required when processing the mail and programming the mail machine to allow the service results to be obtained from the designated website. This method saves time and money. It also allows CSS to track delivery of the envelope and print the signature from the USPS or Pitney Bowes website.
The online method allows CSS to obtain service results electronically instead of using a green card. The mailing machines throughout the state are designed to handle electronic mailings. When this method is used, the service results will be documented online. The specialist must go to the Pitney Bowes website or the United States Postal Service (USPS) website to look up and print the results.
Electronic Certified Mail provides delivery information regarding your item. This information can be accessed online using a unique tracking number. The recipient’s signature is obtained at the time of delivery and a record is maintained by USPS.
The certified mail label is adhesive. Address the envelope and affix the label, as far to the left as possible, on the front of the envelope. The label is folded over the envelope at the dotted line. There’s a peel off portion at the top with a copy of the tracking number. When using Certified/Return Receipt/Restricted mailing, it is necessary to stamp the envelope with RESTRICTED DELIVERY and ELECTRONIC SIGNATURE REQUIRED using a red ink pad. A best practice is to stamp both sides of the envelope.
Procedures for monitoring of certified mail vary by office. Some place the label with the tracking number on the Return/Affidavit of Service (GN3). Some offices have a designated log book and they affix the label there. Others use an Excel spreadsheet to monitor all service initiations. Whatever method staff use, certified mail must be monitored to ensure service is done timely.
Once the envelope is ready, the certified mail sticker is scanned into the postage machine and the destination zip is entered into the meter. Select e-certified, restricted delivery, return receipt. Once all the outgoing service for the day has been scanned, it is uploaded to the Pitney Bowes website.
Pitney Bowes downloads/uploads to USPS occur once a week. For this reason, it can be advantageous to get electronic signatures directly from the USPS web site as it is updated once the mail is taken to the post office and data scanned into their system. The Pitney Bowes website address is https://www.pitneybowes.com/us. Each office has a login. Obtain the login from your supervisor. After logging in, select “USPS Tracking & e-Return Receipts.” Enter the tracking information and your personal DHS email address. The electronic signature will be emailed within minutes.
Whether the Pitney Bowes website is used or USPS, there may be times that the signature comes across blank. If the signature is blank, take the printed blank sheet that lists the tracking number to the United States Post Office. The Post Office may be able to retrieve a signature due to having a greater access to the USPS system. If restricted delivery is used and another person is allowed to sign, this printout (with the wrong signature) and information giving the restricted name/address of the correct person can also be taken to the post office and a form can be filled out to obtain a refund.
See below for an example of signature verification that staff will print from either the Pitney Bowes website or the USPS website. This is used in lieu of an actual green card.