It seems obvious but...

Alice and Bob have an existing business relationship. Alice sends Bob a letter demanding his response via U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Certified Mail, to be received on or before Tuesday, June 28, 2022 or Bob will loose rights under the business agreement - which, if lost, may also involve future legal proceedings. (Dates are arbitrarily chosen to show timing of events - this is not a request for legal advice, Bob already has a very good lawyer :) ). Bob responds to the demand as requested (demanded?), in good faith, and sends his response via USPS Certified Mail on Thursday, June 23, 2022. When the USPS accepts the Certified Mail and provides proof of mailing, it estimates that the mail will be received by Alice on Saturday, June 25, 2022 (not that it matters, but Alice and Bob are in the same city).

Neither the agreement between Alice and Bob, nor the appropriate section of the California Business & Professions code specify anything more than requiring Alice to set a response date for Bob that must be at least a certain number of days after the demand.

Two closely related questions:

  1. If the Certified Mail is delayed in transit (outside of Bob's reasonable control) has Bob met his requirement under the agreement? If the dispute proceeds to court, is the court likely to forgive Bob for missing the deadline and keep him from loosing his rights under the agreement?

  2. Bob has sent his response using the USPS's Return Receipt feature that requires a signature for proof of delivery. If the USPS attempts delivery on or before the June 28, 2022 deadline and Alice (or her representative) is either not available or will not sign for the mail, has Bob still met his requirement under the agreement? If the dispute proceeds to court, is the court likely to forgive Bob for missing the deadline and keep him from loosing his rights under the agreement?

Specifically looking for how this would be handled in California, but information for other locations is appreciated too.

2 Answers 2


Receipt means receipt

If a contract (or law) requires receipt then that means delivered to Alice. It doesn’t mean sent by Bob.

Now, contracts (and laws) can (and do) place restrictions on how notices can and can’t be delivered. If a contract requires service by mail then service by email or by hand is not service and vice-versa.

Again, the contract may define what receipt means. It may be that it has to be in Alice’s hand - mail delivered to her mailbox (physical or virtual) may not count.

However, if it just requires receipt, then it doesn’t matter how it gets there so long as it does. In both situations you identify, Alice has not received the notice.


This is going to depend almost entirely on the wording of the contract between Alice and Bob. If it says that the document must be "sent by certified mail, postmarked by X" that is one thing. But if it says "must be delivered by X" that is quite aother,. In the second case it is Bob's responsibility to make sure that the response arrives in time.

One way for Bob to help avoid problems is to send extra copies by faster methods: ordinary first class mail, Fed-ex overnight, email, or whatever. These copies should indicate that they are copies, ideally something like "Copy of a letter sent as certified mail item number 1234-5678". That ties them to the original. (Bob can get the forms in advance so he will know what the certified item number will be, and include it in both original and copies.)

It also depends on why the deadline exists. If Alice must in turn take some action by a fixed date, and needs Bob's response to take the proper action, it is reasonable for her to insist on a hard due date. In such a case a faster copy might well avoid problems.

If the matter comes to a court case, and Bob sent the response with what ought to be sufficient time, but it did not arrive, ue to no apparent fault of Bob's then the outcome is going to depend on the terms of the agreement between Bob ad Alice. The agreement may place the risk of loss or non-delivery on Bob, and if it does, then it may not matter why it was not received. In that case Bob must take what measures he can to ensure timely delivery, such as sending copied by different routes, or from different post offices.

If however, the agreement merely says thast Bob must send the response by a certain date, he can simply produce his receipt for the mailing.

If the agreement does not specify who bears the sisk of non-delivery, the Judge will have to decide what it should have said. That decision will depend on the relevant facts, but if Bob sent it with what would normally be a safe margin, Bob might well not be penalized.

If A;lice or her representative refuses to accept the mail, she will probably be treated by a court as having received it, If neither she nor her representative were home, then it will again depend on what the agreement says. Note that the USPS normally makes a second attempt to deliver such mail, generally on a later day. If Bob has sent the mail with enough safe margin, the as=second attempt may well be prior to the deadline and all is well. If not, this is the same case as the original non-delivery case.

Note that if this is a business address, there should normally be someone to receive mail on all business days during normal hours.

  • I'll update the question tomorrow with an excerpt from the California Code that covers this (I'm trying to keep it as generic as I can). In the situation that triggered this question the agreement does not specify anything extra so California Code is controlling. (And in the situation that triggered this question the letter arrived the next day with no issues and both Alice and Bob are happy).
    – user11421
    Jun 24, 2022 at 5:06

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