Due and legal service was perfected upon the defendant Georgia corporation in strict compliance with the provisions of the Florida nonresident motorist act and the fact that no responsible officer or agent of the defendant corporation received actual notice of the pending suit is immaterial since such was caused by the failure of the defendant's own employee to give notice to a responsible corporate authority of the receipt of the registered letter containing notice and a copy of the complaint.
On March 14, 1959, W. B. Dunn filed suit in the Superior Court of Mitchell County, Ga., against Royal Brothers Co., Inc., successor to Royal Fish Company, to enforce a judgment received by the plaintiff in the Circuit Court for the Second Judicial Circuit of Florida, the petition alleging that proper service had been had upon the defendant in the Florida suit under the Florida nonresident motorist act. The plaintiff attached to his petition an exemplified copy of the judgment and a certified copy of an affidavit filed under the provisions of the Florida nonresident motorist act, stating that a copy of the process in the Florida complaint had been mailed to the defendant corporation by registered mail, and a certified copy of the return receipt for registered mail signed Royal Fish Company by T. O. Thames as the addressee's agent, same being dated May 25, 1956.
The defendant filed its answer, alleging that it had received no notice of the pendency of the Florida suit. It admitted that T. O. Thames was its employee, but denied that he was an officer of, or was authorized to accept service, on behalf of the defendant corporation.
The parties to the case entered into a written stipulation of fact in the lower court in which it was agreed that the Superior Court of Mitchell County had jurisdiction of the parties and the subject matter. It was stipulated that John Covington was an employee of the defendant on February 3, 1954, and that while operating a motor vehicle owned by the defendant on the public streets and highways of Jefferson County, Florida, he was involved in a collision with a vehicle owned by W. B. Dunn. It was admitted that John Covington informed the president of the defendant corporation that he had been involved in an accident in Jefferson County, Fla., but stated that he had not been at fault and that no damages had been suffered by anyone and that no case had been made by the police officers. It was further admitted that the defendant carried liability insurance to protect it from all claims and that the liability insurance carrier had notice of this particular claim.
It was admitted that on February 3, 1954, and at all times involved in these proceedings, there were in full force and effect in the State of Florida statutes Nos. 47.29 and 47.30, providing for the service of process on nonresident motor vehicle owners by service upon the Secretary of State of the State of Florida and the giving of notice to the nonresident defendant by registered mail.
The parties stipulated that W. B. Dunn filed suit against the defendant in the Circuit Court for the Second Judicial Circuit in and for Jefferson County, Fla., and served a copy of the complaint and summons in this case upon the Secretary of State of the State of Florida in compliance with said statutes; that notice of the service of the summons on the Secretary of State and a copy of the bill of complaint was forwarded to the defendant corporation by registered mail as provided in the act; and that one T. O. Thames, an employee-salesman of the defendant signed an acknowledgment of a receipt of the copy of the complaint and summons, which receipt was returned to the Secretary of State of the State of Florida, the receipt being signed "Royal Fish Company by T. O. Thames" and dated May 25, 1956. It was admitted that this return receipt was duly filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Fla., along with the plaintiff's affidavit of compliance with the provision of the nonresident motor vehicle statute of the State of Florida.
It was further stipulated by the parties that at the time of the receipt of the copy of the summons and at the time of the signing of the receipt, T. O. Thames was a salesman of the defendant corporation, but was not an officer or agent of the defendant corporation and had not been authorized by the defendant to accept service of legal process on its behalf, or to sign the corporation's name to any receipt or instrument of any kind; that T. O. Thames did not notify an officer or agent of the defendant corporation that he had signed for the registered letter; and that no officer of the defendant corporation nor any agent authorized by the defendant to accept service of legal process on its behalf had ever received any notice from the Secretary of State of the State of Florida, nor had any actual knowledge of the pendency of the suit against the corporation in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Fla.
Both parties filed a motion for summary judgment in the Superior Court of Mitchell County, Ga., and on October 19, 1964, the trial court issued an order granting the motion for summary judgment filed by the defendant. The exception is to that judgment.
It is contended by the defendant corporation that the judgment sued upon was of no force and effect for the reason that none of its officers or agents who were authorized to accept service had received actual notice of the pendency of the Florida action. This contention is unavailing to the defendant.
The fact that such notice was actually received by a salesman-employee of the defendant from the post office enhances this probability and assures such notice to the defendant except in cases of gross culpable neglect on the part of such employee. The plaintiff here, having strictly complied with the statute in all respects, should not be made to suffer the consequences of such neglect on the part of the defendant's employee.
The provisions of the Florida nonresident motorist act for the giving of notice to the nonresident defendant by registered mail clearly satisfied the requirements of constitutional due process that statutes of this kind, "must, in order to be valid, contain a provision making it reasonably probable that notice of the service on the Secretary will be communicated to the non-resident defendant who is sued," Wuchter v. Pizzutti, 276 U. S. 13, 18 (48 SC 259, 72 LE 446, 57 ALR 1230); and the lack of actual notice to the defendant in this case was not due to any deficiency in the Florida act or in its observance and execution in so far as these requirements are concerned.
This being true, this case comes within the ruling of this court in Mull v. Taylor, 68 Ga. App. 663 (23 SE2d 595)
, that where notice is duly given to the defendant as required by the provisions of the nonresident motorist act, "irrespective of whether the defendant actually received such notice, and where the statute is otherwise complied with, due and legal service has been perfected." As recently stated by this court in Cheek v. Norton, 106 Ga. App. 280
, 284, supra: "When, however, the reasonable probability requirements are met, the fact that the defendant did not in fact receive actual notice, especially when failure to do so is the fault of such defendant, will not always deprive the courts of jurisdiction."
This court has held that leaving process at the place of business of a corporation in the hands of a person employed by the corporation is good service. The corporation cannot attack such service on the ground that the employee failed to deliver such process to any of its agents or officers. Clements v. Sims T.V. Inc., 105 Ga. App. 769
, 773, supra. Likewise, in the situation here, the defendant cannot attack an otherwise valid judgment based on the failure of its employee to inform them of the notice received by him in his capacity as an employee of the defendant. The trial court erred therefore in granting a summary judgment in favor of the defendant corporation.
ON MOTION FOR REHEARING.
Counsel for defendant in error contends that his client has not had his day in court and that this opinion inflicts a great injustice upon him. While the result reached places the defendant in error in the unfortunate position of having to pay for the negligence of its employee, a contrary opinion by the court would have resulted in grave injustice to a plaintiff who had complied with every duty placed upon him by the law under which he was proceeding.
It is agreed that the provisions of the nonresident motorist act we are here considering meet the constitutional requirements of due process. It is agreed that the plaintiff complied strictly with every detail of the law. The only missing link in the chain of notice is the failure of the defendant's employee who had signed for and received the registered letter containing the notice to give the same to an officer or agent of the corporation. According to the contention of the defendant, the plaintiff would be required to follow the registered letter after receipt by the employee from the post office and see that it came into actual physical possession of the proper officer of the defendant corporation. The law places no such burden on the plaintiff.
The defendant's unfortunate position is not the result of the law or the interpretation of it by this court. It is due solely to the human frailty of its own employee. That a corporation must suffer economic loss due to the negligence of one of its employees is not a new theory of law.