Legal Question in Business Law in New York

Acceptable forms of registered mail

A contract written under New York law states that a termination notice must be sent by registered mail. Is Federal Express a legally accepted form of registered mail?

Asked on 8/17/99, 2:25 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Gerry Elman Elman Technology Law, P.C.

Re: Acceptable forms of registered mail

Interesting question. If a lot is riding on whether or not the agreement is terminated, the appropriate strategy is generally to comply literally with the wording that the parties put into the agreement. "Mail" generally means the U.S. Postal Service, not Federal Express or UPS or another private courier.

The U.S. Postal Service provides a service it calls "registered mail" but that's basically intended for shipping cash or valuables. Still, if the agreement says "registered mail," then the user would be sure to have complied if he used the service called "registered mail" even if the envelope contains only a letter and no valuables.

Many years ago, the Postal Service (then called the Post Office) started up a service called "certified mail" to provide tracking for envelopes that contain papers but not valuables. One option is to use the flavor called "certified mail, return receipt requested," whereby one attaches to the envelope a green postal card that gets signed when the envelope is delivered and then returned by mail to the user. This is generally thought to be the equivalent of what used to be called "registered mail." But if someone is a stickler and wants to argue that "certified mail" isn't "registered mail," well, he could file papers making that argument. My guess is that he would lose that argument, but maybe you'd waste a bit of time in that debate.

If something needs to be delivered quickly, one can send it by U.S. Postal Service Express Mail overnight service. Optionally, one can attach a Return Receipt postal card to it, for an additional charge. Is this "registered mail"? No, it isn't literally "registered mail," but it's probably the right way to send such a notice these days.

Your question points up the fact that a lot of people include ancient boilerplate in today's contracts, wording that just doesn't mean today what is intended. I generally mark up such archaic clauses and write in something to the effect that the parties may use fax or email to send the initial notice, as long as they follow up with a paper version of the original sent by a trackable means. The cheapest trackable delivery these days is Priority Mail with Delivery Confirmation, which went online just a few months ago. For a $3.20 postage and a $0.35 delivery confirmation fee, you can check via the Web or an 800 phone no. to see whether the paper was actually delivered and when. But to get a physical signature on a green postal card, you'd need to pay extra.

Recently I came across an online service from United Parcel Service that I think is called Electronic Courier. It's a trackable electronic messaging service delivered by the UPS Web Site. It might be something to consider writing into your next contract as the means for sending formal notices. The trackability should avoid the need for following up with a paper copy.

Read more
Answered on 8/19/99, 11:22 pm

Related Questions & Answers

More Business Law questions and answers in New York