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Man who says he was overcharged $55 in notary fees sues for millions in damages, but court says, no, he wasn't overcharged

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that, aside from one very specific set of documents that almost nobody uses anymore, Massachusetts notaries can charge whatever the market can bear and that a man's legal demand for damages for what he feels were overcharges for getting documents notarized should fail because his claim relies on a law written in 1836 about those documents.

The court's ruling comes in the form of an answer to a federal judge overseeing a lawsuit by Kevin Richardson II of Beverly over the amount he and his wife were charged to have eight documents notarized at their local UPS Store between 2012 and 2018. Richardson charges state law bars notaries for charging more than $1.25 per document, but that he and his wife were charged $10 a document, so he wants his money back - plus $5.9 million for his troubles, and that of other UPS Store customers in the state. The judge asked the SJC whether the state really does limit notary charges to $1.25 a document.

The state's highest court ruled, nope, and said Richardson and his attorney misinterpreted the law they cited as still having much relevance today.

Specifically, Richardson's argument hinges on Mass. General Law 262, Sect. 41, which sets maximum fees for notarizing various documents.

The problem for Richardson, however, is that when the law was written, in 1836, Section 41 was about a very specific sort of notarized document, one rarely in use today, the court said:

By its plain language, § 41 applies to fees charged by notaries public in connection with the act of "protesting" the nonpayment of a negotiable instrument. A protest is a series of notarial acts in which a notary public prepares a certificate of dishonor verifying that a negotiable instrument, such as a check or promissory note, was dishonored by nonacceptance or nonpayment. ... The certificate is used to recover the money owed. ... Although this process rarely is used in modern times, it was a common procedure in 1836, when the law was first passed.

Richardson's suit also notes that the law concludes, ""[T]he whole cost of noting . . . shall in no case exceed one dollar and twenty-five cents," which they interpreted as meaning it applied to every single document a notary might affix a seal to.

And here again, the court noted that while English usage may have changed in 184 years, the law has not, and that it needs to be read in its 19th-century context of being about trying to deal with bad checks:

The plaintiff argues that "noting" should be broadly defined according to various dictionary definitions of the verb "to note" and that the phrase "the whole cost of noting" refers to all notarial acts, thereby limiting the fee for all notarial acts to $1.25. ... When §41 was enacted in the mid-1800s, "noting" commonly was known as a step in the process of protesting the failure to honor a negotiable instrument. See F.M. Hinch, John's American Notary and Commissioner of Deeds Manual §442, at 281 (3d ed. 1922). ...

The answer does not end the case, however - that is up to the federal judge to decide.

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Comments

Good Lord these types of frivolous suits that are brought should come with a consequence if you lose. Maybe if the ass was asking for his $55 back ok but this clown thinks he was hurt to the tune of millions of dollars. Honestly, what attorney's move forward with these types of cases??

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Voting closed 14

A certificate of dishonor. And to be charged a buck twenty five for it.

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1836 dollars adjusted would mean he should have been charged $34.98 per transaction, I say he owes UPS $24.98 per transaction, plus lawyer's fees and court costs and a sanction for the plaintiff's attorney just because. Judge Zip has spoken, next case please.

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Nope. This law has fixed dollar amounts. You don't get to decide to adjust it for inflation. Just like the state doesn't get to adjust the 26.54 cents/gallon gas tax for inflation unless the law is changed to provide for that.

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In 40 years I have never charged a fee to notarize a document.

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I have been a notary for over 25 years in Massachusetts and have never charged a fee. We have a client who was charged over $8 per document by the UPS store for "review of documents". My understanding of the notary law is that I must merely ask the affiant if they are signing this document voluntarily and of their own free act and deed. I have no right or reason to review a document and in fact, it is really none of my business what is in it. I am not a lawyer. Anyone else feel the same? Different point of view? I'm curious. Thanks

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Until a few years ago, I too thought that the limit was $1.25, but then I read the statute and realized that the $1.25 limit only applies to that one specific act, as the Court found in this case. The statute seems pretty clear, even in today's language. For what it's worth, I almost never charge to perform notarial acts. I notarize work-related legal documents all the time at work, but my commission requires me to serve any qualified person seeking a notary, within reason. I tell people that the first five acts are free, and then I charge after that. One thing UPS and many banks, etc. might want to watch out for-and I don't know if this is commonly the case- is that the fee should go to directly to the notary public, not to UPS or the bank, etc., unless UPS or the bank, etc. have a stated facility fee separate from the notary's fee, as notaries are public officials and do not work for UPS or the bank, etc in their capacity as a notary public. If UPS was taking a portion of the notary's fee, the plaintiff in this case might have had a better case.

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I could see where the guy could be confused, but alas, it does appear to be about one particular act.

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Something about 'I tell people that the first five acts are free, and then I charge after that.' just cries out for it.

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Do notaries have to take an exam in Massachusetts? This maximum price (or lack thereof) would be one of the first things in the curriculum if I were in charge.

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Voting closed 9

this to be about everyone's favorite MIT grad.

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Voting closed 18

Invented notaries

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Side note - when researching this joke, I discovered Dolph Lungren was a Fulbright scholar at MIT until Grace Jones convinced him to leave. That's a life lived to it's fullest right there.

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