A civil summons is served on the wrong person  IEDPC 18 (31 December 2008)
In February 2008 I received a complaint from a data subject who had received a District Court civil summons from a firm of solicitors acting on behalf of a property management company. The civil summons named a male and a female as the defendants in the matter. The data subject shared the same full name as that of the male named on the summons. The data subject phoned the solicitors concerned to inform them that he did not know anything about the matter referred to on the summons, that the female named on the summons was not known to him and that she did not reside at his address. When he asked the solicitors where they had sourced his address he was told that their enquiry agent had given it to them.
My Office commenced its investigation by contacting the solicitors concerned to establish if, as alleged, the complainant had been mistakenly served with a summons which was proper to another man of the same name. The solicitors subsequently responded and confirmed that they accepted that the person who received the summons in this matter was not the person with whom their clients had contracted. They informed my Office that they had relied on information provided by their enquiry agent, XX. They also asked my Office to convey their sincere apologies to the data subject for any inconvenience that may have been caused to him.
My Office informed the data subject of the response of the solicitors and sought his views about how his complaint against the solicitors might be resolved to his satisfaction. He indicated that this could be achieved by the data controller agreeing to cover the legal and medical costs incurred by him as a direct result of being wrongly served the civil summons. The data subject informed my Office that on receipt of the civil summons it was necessary for him to engage a solicitor to deal with the matter as he had been summoned to appear before the District Court on an appointed date. He also stated that he suffered considerable distress as a result of receiving the summons and that he had attended his doctor as a direct result. The data subject was also concerned that the summons served on him was now a matter of public record in the courts system and he said that it was incumbent on the solicitors to have this matter rectified by requesting the Courts Service to clear his good name.
The solicitors immediately indicated their willingness to resolve this matter as sought by the data subject and confirmed that there was no public record of the proceedings in this matter. In the solicitors' view, the issue arose as a direct result of the actions of its enquiry agent. For this reason, it had been agreed that the enquiry agent would make a payment directly to the data subject's solicitor in settlement of the matter and confirmed that this had taken place. Unfortunately, the enquiry agent had not made any contact with the data subject or his solicitor on this matter. Soon afterwards the solicitors sent my Office, on their own behalf, a cheque made payable to the data subject to cover the full costs incurred by him in this matter. They stated that they had been misled by the enquiry agent who had indicated that the matter had been resolved with the data subject's solicitor. They indicated that, as a result, they had dispensed with the services of the enquiry agent with immediate effect. The data subject expressed his satisfaction with the outcome and thanked my Office for helping to bring this matter, which had caused him great distress, to a satisfactory conclusion.
This case highlights the distress and inconvenience that can be caused to an innocent individual as a result of the processing of inaccurate personal data. The serving of a summons is a significant action and it can be a matter of great anxiety for an individual to receive a summons, even when that individual is not the legitimate subject of the summons. Greater care should have been taken by all involved in the process of serving this summons.