WisBar News: Unauthenticated Affidavit not a Fundamental Defect, Appeals Court Concludes:

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  • WisBar News
    October
    05
    2012

    Unauthenticated Affidavit not a Fundamental Defect, Appeals Court Concludes

    Joe Forward
    Legal Writer

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    Oct. 5, 2012 – A state appeal courts recently ruled that a circuit court had personal jurisdiction over a property forfeiture action, even though a court clerk did not authenticate a required affidavit.

    Unauthenticated Affidavit not a Fundamental Defect, Appeals Court Concludes

    By org jforward wisbar Joe Forward, Legal Writer, State Bar of Wisconsin

    Unauthenticated Affidavit not a Fundamental 
Defect, Appeals Court Concludes Oct. 5, 2012 – A state appeal courts recently ruled that a circuit court had personal jurisdiction over a property forfeiture action, even though a court clerk did not authenticate a required affidavit.

    Robert Schmitt complained that the Waukesha County Circuit Court did not have personal jurisdiction to enter a judgment forfeiting his vehicle because the state’s pleadings did not comply with Wisconsin law. The state seized the car in connection with drug-related charges.

    Under Wis. Stat. section 961.555(2)(a), forfeiture actions must be commenced by filing a summons, complaint, and affidavit of the person who seized the property.

    A condition of the circuit court’s personal jurisdiction requires each of these documents to be authenticated – affixed with an official court stamp and case number – by the clerk of courts before they are served upon the defendant or respondent in the case.

    In Schmitt’s case, the clerk authenticated the summons and complaint, but not the affidavit.

    The circuit court dismissed Schmitt’s personal jurisdiction argument. In State v. Schmitt, 2011AP1949 (Oct. 3, 2012), the District II Wisconsin Court of Appeals recently affirmed.

    “It is obvious to us that the three items were submitted as one document and that the clerk stamped the summons and complaint, but for some reason, did not stamp the affidavit. So yes, there is a defect,” wrote Chief Appeals Court Judge Richard Brown.

    However, the appeals court looked to American Family Mutual Ins. Co. v. Royal Ins. Co., 167 Wis. 2d 524, 481 N.W.2d 629 (1992), to conclude that the error was a technical defect, not a fundamental defect that would deprive the circuit court of personal jurisdiction.

    “Our supreme court has held that when the failure to authenticate is due to a clerk’s error, the error is technical,” Judge Brown wrote, referring to American Family.

    The appeals court warned that failing to meet the authentication requirement of section 961.555(2)(a) still constitutes a fundamental defect, while noting the exception.

    “[W]here, as here, the State presents all three items, stapled together as one document, to the clerk for authentication, and the clerk errs in failing to separately authenticate the affidavit, such defect is technical, not fundamental, and will only deprive the court of jurisdiction if prejudice is shown,” Judge Brown wrote.