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Is E-Mail legally considered mail?
August 14, 2014 7:08 AM   Subscribe

My club's Constitution (written in 1934) requires that members be notified of proposed changes by mail. I would like to send a notification via email rather than postal mail and am looking for any legal precedent (preferably in New York State) showing that the legal definition of mail in this case would include e-mail.

I know that most current dictionaries list email as one of the definitions of mail, and I also know that I can use the argument that the intentions of our founders were to communicate with the membership, rather than to support a specific medium. I'm really not looking for opinions here, but for actual court decisions that will support (or refute, if that's the case) my case.
posted by robverb to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't have a cite, but I had the same issue with a neighborhood association bylaw in NY State and was told by attorney friend that you should send USPS mail and get the bylaw changed to include email as a valid form of notification.
posted by 724A at 7:28 AM on August 14 [10 favorites]


I unfortunately, know too much about this. For something to be considered delivered by mail it has to have postmark, and have that postage cancelled. I worked for a startup in the early 00s that had the first digital postmark (basically a cryptographic signature that used a cesium clock to guarantee that the contents were indeed postmarked at the time of "postmark application") that was created in partnership with and recognized by the USPS. The reason anyone went to this trouble is that, the SEC laws dictated that when someone traded a stock they needed confirmation of such via US postal mail. We developed this stupid thing so we could send people trade confirmations via email instead of postal mail (saving brokerages like Schwab and Amertirade like $1-2 a trade in paper and real postage). The SEC gave us a "no action" letter basically saying that if someone used our system they were more or less in compliant in delivering their trade confirm. This whole digital postmark thing was an abject failure as the brokerages had to buy our software/system and then still pay the post office like 10-15 cents for a digital signature. We also used it for banks etc. Eventually, what people to do today is just get the customer to agree to take a "paperless statement" or whatever in lieu of paper mail, thereby waiving their right/need to get it in the mail. Long story short, email is not mail. You can probably create some kind of portal thing that you email people where they enroll in a plan and agree to take all communication from the club via email instead of paper/postal mail on a per member basis. Of course, you still need to send regular mail to those who don't enroll.

Alternatively, change your constitution.
posted by ill3 at 7:34 AM on August 14 [7 favorites]


Legal written notice seems to vary by state, so your best bet might be to contact a local lawyer.
posted by instamatic at 7:35 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Is there something preventing you from changing the bylaws?
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:38 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Legal written notice seems to vary by state, so your best bet might be to contact a local lawyer.

I believe written "Legal written notice" differs from "notified by mail".
posted by ill3 at 7:39 AM on August 14 [2 favorites]


"Is there something preventing you from changing the bylaws?"

Presumably the fact that, per the question, such a change would require notification by mail, i.e. doing precisely the thing that the asker was hoping to avoid doing.
posted by firechicago at 7:44 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Presumably the fact that, per the question, such a change would require notification by mail, i.e. doing precisely the thing that the asker was hoping to avoid doing.

Fair enough.

OP, I would just go to a qualified attorney in your jurisdiction and explain the situation.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:49 AM on August 14


Hard to find examples, since most by-laws specify "first-class mail" which is not ambiguous.

Here is a case where a board voted to allow e-mail notices rather than mail, did not have a quorum for the vote, and subsequent e-mail notices were considered invalid.

FUTIA v. WESTCHESTER COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS (2003)
posted by smackfu at 8:03 AM on August 14


Presumably the fact that, per the question, such a change would require notification by mail, i.e. doing precisely the thing that the asker was hoping to avoid doing.

Yes, but only one time, right? If the bylaws are successfully changed, then all future notices can be by email.
posted by merejane at 6:33 PM on August 14


I am not a lawyer, but I do work in the not-for-profit world.

Put away your dictionary and any thoughts of founders' intentions, because bylaws language is all and only about conforming with your state's non-profit law.

It appears that NY just changed theirs to allow for electronic communication, but you need to amend your bylaws before you can avail yourself of the new freedom.

You need a lawyer to write properly conforming language specific to your state--plus it sounds like a full review/update would be timely--but here's an example of ours, though we're not in NY:

When notice of meetings, or of the subject to be considered at meetings, is required by these Bylaws, such notice shall be sent to all members qualified to vote at least 30 days prior to the meeting where the vote will be taken. The notice may be sent by first-class mail, electronic communication, including e-mail, or any other means permitted by law.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:49 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


Thanks to everyone who responded. For those who like to know the resolution...

In addition to other amendments, we are going to propose an amendment which will allow notices to be sent via email in the future. For all of you who suggested doing that - yes, you're correct, but this does involve the cost and effort involved in doing a mailing now, which was the reason for the original post.

In any case, I learned a few things (as I always do here) and I appreciate your taking the time to respond.
posted by robverb at 10:29 AM on August 15


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