Utah’s New Civil Rules Provide Multi-Lingual Notice, Plain Language, and QR Codes to Self-Represented Litigants

May 24, 2021

"woman scanning QR code"On May 1, amendments to the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure went into effect, several of which provide better notice of parties’ rights and obligations at the outset and throughout a lawsuit. The rule amendments are also paired with judicial council-approved forms that include notice of rights in plain language and in multiple languages.

Notice and Service of the Complaint

Utah Rule 4(c)(1) now requires that a party filing a complaint provide notice with a bilingual summons to provide people with more information about their rights, responsibilities, and the ramifications for not responding to lawsuits.

The new summons contains:

  • A plain language explanation in English, Spanish, Arabic, Simplified Chinese, and Vietnamese that a lawsuit has been filed against the defendant/respondent
  • A clear warning about the deadline to respond 
  • QR codes and short URLs that link to self-help information on how to file an answer, how to find legal help, and links to copies of these warnings in Arabic, Simplified Chinese, and Vietnamese

The forms are listed on the Utah courts website as both PDF and Word versions. Utah now requires a specific eviction summons containing the same above requirements.

Self-represented people are often unfamiliar with legal language and the courts’ technical processes, and English-only rules and forms further compound these difficulties. The Call to Action report and recommendations provide courts with strategies to help litigants better understand these processes. One way is to use plain-language notice and court forms that are available in multiple languages commonly spoken in the community. The Utah rules remove legal jargon and provide clear direction, time frames, and consequences throughout the life of a lawsuit.

The rules also outline service-of-process requirements for electronic acceptance of service. If a summons is accepted by electronic signature, the rule requires that the electronic signature is “attributable to the party accepting service and was voluntarily” signed by the party. Proof must also include that the defending party received readable copies of the summons and complaint before electronic signature.

The pandemic exacerbated service-of-process problems. During the first year of the pandemic, the USPS temporarily changed its mail-handling procedures for public health reasons. The USPS modified in-person signatures by allowing the carrier to ask, at a safe distance, only for a last name and first initial of the customer. These practices varied by location and over the course of the pandemic. The Utah rules safeguard proper service of process for the complaint, summons, and other pleadings, while balancing mail carriers’ varying safety measures. Utah’s clarification on electronic signatures also addresses judgment enforcement matters.

Caution Language on the Complaint and for Discovery and Dispositive Motions

Under the new rules, the plaintiff must include caution language authorized in Rule 8(a) on the first page of all pleadings requesting relief and state the consequences for failing to do so. A plaintiff who does not include the caution language may have any judgment they obtain nullified.

During the discovery process, parties must also provide caution language in all requests for admission under Rule 36(b). Requests for admission, if not responded to, allow a party to strategically request that a court deem the “admissions confessed.” If successful, the nonresponding party may have unwittingly agreed to the contents of plaintiff’s (or defendant’s) facts. As a result, a plaintiff may get a judgment against defending party, or on the flip side, a plaintiff may have their case dismissed. Self-represented litigants now receive notice that a failure to respond means they admitted the “truth” or the contents of the request for admissions. The caution language attempts to ensure all parties understand this critical aspect of discovery.

The notice amendments also require caution language on the first page of all dispositive motions filed against a self-represented litigant. Rule 7(c) requires caution language on the first page of all dispositive motions and bilingual notice of rights for dispositive motions to the responding party. The consequences for failing to provide notice include a continuance of a hearing on the motion and an opportunity to “set aside” any relief granted resulting from the motion.

Uniform Process for Supplemental Proceedings

The Utah rule amendments also create a new uniform process for supplemental proceedings to enforce court orders and judgments. The standardized motion practice under Rule 7A and Rule 7B (addressing the domestic law order to show cause process) replace the order to show cause process found in Rule 7(q) and in local court rules. Rule 7A provides a framework for best practices to enforce judgments, property seizures, replevin actions, and garnishments.

 Rule 7A requires now that:

  • An enforcement action must be filed, by verified motion, in the same case in which the order was entered
  • The motion must be accompanied by an affidavit based on personal knowledge, declaring facts admissible in court
  • The movant must provide a proposed order with specific information such as:
    • The title and date of entry of the order that the motion seeks to enforce
    • Relief sought
    • Whether the movant requests the other party be held in contempt. If so, state the proposed penalties (e.g., a fine of up to $1000 and confinement in jail for up to 30 days)
    • Order the other party to appear personally or through counsel at a specific time and place
    • State to the opposing party that a response is not required but permitted
    • If the court issues an order to attend a hearing, the moving party must serve the nonmoving party with the order, the motions, and all supporting affidavits, within 28 days of the hearing.

Utah’s amended rules allow the court to receive evidence, hear arguments, rule on motions, or request additional information. The court may order a telephone call before the hearing to address preliminary questions and issues.

The judgment-enforcement process is often complicated by the chain of ownership for debt, timely filing of a lawsuit within statute of limitations for the underlying debt, proper calculation of the debt amount, and proper notice to debtors. As illustrated by IAALS and the NCSC’s guidance on debt collection, Utah’s Rule 7A now provides a consistent process for post-judgment proceedings. Parties must now comply with basic procedural requirements for notice, standing, timeliness, and sufficiency of documentation at the enforcement stage.

Utah’s amendments provide clear and consistent direction to self-represented litigants at each stage of the litigation process. Self-represented people are often unfamiliar with the technical processes engrained in the court system. English-only rules and forms compound the difficulties of meaningful access. People deserve a civil legal process that can fairly and promptly resolve disputes for everyone, no matter their income level—individuals or businesses and in matters large or small.