An Update on Service at a last known address: Boettcher v Xio (UK) LLP & Ors

In a recent decision by Peter MacDonald Eggers KC (sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge), the Claimant was successful in arguing that service at the last known address was valid service in spite of the Defendant no longer living there.

The claim itself was brought against 5 Defendants that were inside and outside of the jurisdiction. The Judge also considered a jurisdictional dispute but the arguments that we find interesting and want to cover today centred around service on the Second Defendant, Mr Geyer. On 1st October 2021, the Claimant’s solicitors purported to serve the Claim Form and related documents on Mr Geyer at his last known address by way of first class post. The Second Defendant disputed that this was valid service as he had ceased to reside at this address in January 2018 and his national residency was Switzerland.

The Judge considered arguments from the Claimant as to why this was valid service on the “last known residence” and the Second Defendant that it was not valid because the Claimant had not persisted with in-jurisdiction service after having his original letter of claim returned. Instead the Claimant had proceeded to contact the Defendant in Switzerland but still served the Claim Form on his address in the UK at the same time as applying for out of jurisdiction service. The Defendant maintained that this meant the Claimant was aware that the purported “last known residence” was therefore not the “last known residence”.

The Judge found:

In my judgment, the evidence establishes a good arguable case that 33SR was Mr Geyer's last known residence, as far as Dr Boettcher was aware or ought to have been aware by the exercise of reasonable diligence, within the meaning of CPR rule 6.9(2) for the following reasons.

First, Mr Geyer had resided at 33SR until January 2018 and Dr Boettcher had been informed by Mr Geyer, whilst Dr Boettcher worked at Xio UK, that he lived at 33SR but also had a property (and family) in Germany. However, it appears that Mr Geyer did not then reside in Germany (Mr Geyer's first witness statement, paragraph 46).

Second, Dr Boettcher made a number of inquiries, by means of contacting Mr Geyer directly, the use of a private investigation consultant, obtaining information about Mr Geyer's address in Germany and Switzerland, and instructing his solicitors to make enquiries with the porter at 33SR. Those inquiries revealed that Mr Geyer still had a residence at 33SR, even if that was not accurate, and also had a residence in Germany and/or Switzerland. The only evidence which Dr Boettcher obtained which might be said to indicate that Mr Geyer no longer resided at 33SR was the evidence that Mr Geyer now had a residence in Switzerland. However, the fact that Mr Geyer had multiple residences is not a reason why 33SR could not be a last known, or even a usual, residence (Relfo Ltd (in liquidation) v Varsani [2009] EWHC 2297 (Ch), para. 34).

CPR rule 6.9(5) applies only if Dr Boettcher had reason to believe that Mr Geyer no longer resided at 33SR. However, Dr Boettcher's inquiries did not give him reason to believe that Mr Geyer no longer resided at 33SR, especially having regard to the third and fourth reasons below.

Third, a critical step in Dr Boettcher's conclusion that 33SR was Mr Geyer's last known residence is the conversation between Ms Chadda and the porter at 33SR. It is fair to say that this was a short telephone conversation, but the contents of the conversation reinforced, rather than contradicted, the conclusion that Mr Geyer continued to reside at 33SR. Ms Chadda's evidence was of course inconsistent with the evidence of Ms Danon's evidence of her own conversation with the porter at 33SR, assuming it was the same person (Ms Danon's conversation of course took place after service). I am not in a position to decide which of these accounts is to be preferred, assuming that there is an inconsistency. In my judgment, Ms Chadda's evidence affords a plausible basis on which to conclude that Dr Boettcher had no reason to conclude that Mr Geyer was no longer resident at 33SR and that any conflict in the evidence cannot be resolved for the purposes of this application.

Fourth, Dr Boettcher through his solicitors had sent letters of claim to Mr Geyer by email which included 33SR (or "Flat 10, Savile Row, London, W1S 3PZ") as his identified address. The evidence suggests that Mr Geyer had received these letters of claim (and there is no evidence to suggest that Mr Geyer did not receive these letters of claim) but took no steps to inform Dr Boettcher or his solicitors that he no longer resided at 33SR, even though in one of the emails sent by Dr Boettcher's solicitors, Mr Geyer was asked to identify his preferred address for service. Dr Boettcher is entitled to rely on Mr Geyer's failure to correct any impression that Dr Boettcher had that 33SR was Mr Geyer's last known residence.

Of course, Dr Boettcher became aware soon after the purported service of the Claim Form on Mr Geyer at 33SR on 1st October 2021 that Mr Geyer's position was that he was no longer resident at 33SR (Ms Lanceley's second witness statement, paragraph 27). That is of course irrelevant as the question whether 33SR was Mr Geyer's last known residence is to be determined as at the date of service (1st October 2021).

Therefore, in my judgment, the service of the proceedings on Mr Geyer was valid service in accordance with CPR rule 6.9.

This case provides some good reassurance for service on the last known address. If reasonable inquiries do not give you a reason to believe that the Defendant no longer resides there, then service at the last known address is valid in line with this judgement. It is important to note that this a binding High Court authority for the purposes of hearings in the County Court where good service may be disputed.

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