Can a Notary Decline or Refuse to Provide Service?
In Colorado, a notary may have his/her commission revoked for failing to exercise the powers and duties of a notary public. The notary should not discriminate, decline or refuse a lawful notary request. Notaries are commissioned to serve all of the public.
But, there may be a legitimate reason for a notary to decline or refuse to provide service. As a best practice, notaries should make an entry in the notary journal when they decline or refuse a request for notary service. This can be evidence that the notary is using reasonable care to prevent improper acts. Some of the reasons for the notary to decline or refuse are:
Potential Reasons to Decline or Refuse to Notarize
Lack of Identification
1. If the customer cannot provide satisfactory evidence of identification, as defined by Colorado law.
Lack of Awareness
2. If a customer lacks adequate mental capacity, due to mental impairment, such as a stroke, dementia, Alzheimer’s, brain injury, brain disease, or low IQ, or has been found to be mentally incompetent by a medical professional or court ruling.
A notary should use reasonable care to assess the customer’s awareness, mental capacity and a basic understanding of the document. The customer should be alert, able to carry on a conversation, provide cohesive answers to questions, and demonstrate that they understand the purpose of the document. A drowsy person may need rest or awakening before signing.
Under the Influence of Drugs, Alcohol, Emotions
3. If a customer appears to be under the influence of drugs, alcohol, strong emotions, or stress, to an extent that impairs their awareness, judgment, reasoning or understanding.
4. If it appears that a customer is not signing willingly due to pressure, threat, coercion, or duress. If other people are present and trying to influence the signer, the notary may ask the other people to leave until the customer can make a decision without undue influence.
5. If the customer speaks a foreign language and is unable to communicate directly with the notary, without using a translator, the notary may decline or refer the customer to a notary that speaks the foreign language.
6. If the document has blank spaces, missing pages, or is incomplete.
7. If a request to notarize is for a time when the notary is closed for business or unavailable, or the requested signing location is outside of a mobile notary’s service area. A mobile notary may also decline due to rain, snow, ice, blizzard, hazard, unsafe, unhealthy or unsanitary conditions, risk of crime, unrestrained pets, etc. If a request is for multiple, long or complicated documents, and will cause delays for other waiting customers or appointments, the notary may process some of the documents, and ask the customer to reschedule another time to process the remaining documents.
Special Knowledge, Authorization or Technology Needed
8. If the request is for an advanced, unusual, complicated, remote or online transaction that requires special knowledge, training or technology that the notary does not have. Or, the law or workplace policy does not authorize the notary to notarize a particular type of document. Some notary acts are lawful in one state, but unlawful in another state.
Remote online notarization requires the customer and the notary to have a computer or smartphone, an internet connection, the required software, the technical knowledge to use the technology and the application, and a secure system to protect against unauthorized access and malware. It is not the role of the notary to train computer users or provide tech support.
Unable to Pay
9. If the customer is unwilling or unable to pay the notary fee or travel fee.
Illegal, Fraudulent or Unauthorized Act
10. If the notary knows or has a reasonable suspicion that can be articulated, that the notarial act, document or the associated transaction is illegal, dishonest, deceptive, false, improper, fraudulent, or unauthorized.
[See Notary Code of Professional Responsibility, Section IV-E-2, Improper Transaction.]
If the notary knows or has a reasonable belief that the notarial act or the associated transaction is unlawful.
[See Model Notary Act, Section 5-6(b)(1), Refusal to Notarize]
Illegal acts include acts against public policy, that are in violation of, or promote a breach of, federal, state or local laws or regulations, or case law from court rulings, or tend to harm the state or its citizens.
Note: starting July 1, 2018, under RULONA laws, the Colorado SOS will not certify notarial acts on records: (I) regarding allegiance to a government or jurisdiction; (II) relating to the relinquishment or renunciation of citizenship, sovereignty, in itinere status or world service authority; or (III) setting forth or implying for the bearer a claim of immunity from the law of this state or federal law.
11. In some states, notaries take an oath or affirmation to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and of their state of residence.
Interfering with, Bribing or Influencing a Public Official
12. If the customer makes threats, assaults, or attempts to obstruct, deceive, bribe, influence or coerce the notary.
13. If the notary has a disqualifying interest in the transaction or a significant conflict of interest that would compromise the impartiality of the notary. The value of the money, goods, benefits or services received by the notary should not exceed compensation for the value of the services rendered by the notary.
State laws may allow a public official to receive a minimal amount as a thank you, such as some food or a beverage. The total dollar value limits allowed per transaction and per year are defined in the state “gift ban” laws.
14. Most customers are polite and cooperative when seeking notary services. Some customers are rude, insulting, disrespectful, angry, loud, disruptive, abusive, condescending, uncooperative, or unreasonable. Some businesses establish policies for dealing with disruptive customers. A judge in court would likely give a warning to a disruptive party, and then issue a contempt of court charge if the disruptive behavior continues. The US Post Office has refused service to disruptive customers who refused to follow rules of conduct.
Health, Safety and Security Issues
15. Notaries should not put themselves or others at risk in situations involving health, safety or security. Hazardous situations should be resolved, remedied, safely accommodated or eliminated before proceeding. During an epidemic or pandemic infectious disease emergency, public health orders, guidance and infection prevention and control policies including social distancing, disinfection and wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) must be followed.
16. Notaries should not decline or refuse service or charge different fees because a person is not a client or customer of a business. The public should not be required to buy goods or services or open an account as a prerequisite to receiving notary service. Employers should not impose company rules on notary employees that contradict notary laws.
Model Notary Act
17. The Model Notary Act, published by the National Notary Association (NNA), Section 5-6, Refusal to Notarize, states:
A notary shall not refuse to perform a notarial act based on a person’s race, advanced age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, disability, or status as a non-client or non-customer of the notary’s employer.
Colorado Civil Rights Anti-Discrimination Laws
18. The Colorado Civil Rights Division enforces the Colorado Anti-Discrimination laws. A Colorado business serving the public must not discriminate based on: race, color, religion, creed, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation (including transgender status), marital status, and retaliation for engaging in protected activity (opposing a discriminatory practice or participating in a public accommodations discrimination proceeding).
Illegal discrimination includes providing unequal terms and conditions, discriminatory advertising, denial of service, unequal service, retaliation, and harassment when based on a protected class.
The notary should serve all of the public, in a fair, honest and unbiased manner, when a lawful notary request is received, or attempt to help the customer find another notary that can provide the requested service.
A helpful notary may receive a positive customer review from a thankful customer for providing good customer service.
Disclaimer: No Legal Advice. Any blog posts, comments or other information found here is not to be used or considered as legal advice. Consult with a licensed, competent attorney for legal advice specific to your situation.