Whenever someone files a lawsuit against another party, they must then provide formal notice of the pending legal action to that person, who is commonly referred to as the defendant. Doing so affords the other person involved in the suit to respond to the claims against them when they go before the court.
This notice is given through a method known as “process,” or the deliverance of the court documents to the party being served.
The legally appropriate way to execute service of process varies depending on the jurisdiction where the case originated. In some states, like Florida, service of process is considered completed even of the documents are not physically handed to the defendant; in California, however, the documents have to be visible to the person being served and not concealed inside an envelope. Should the individual being served close their door or leave the property, this can be considered refusal to accept service, and the documents may then be “drop served.” This means the documents can be left in a location that is positioned as close to the defendant as possible, and in this case, it is considered a valid means of service.
Usually, a summons and additional court documents pertaining to the suit must be served upon the other litigant in-person. In most suits filed in the United States, personal service is necessary to prove that the appropriate party has been served. Many jurisdictions allow for process to be served by an official of the court, like a sheriff or bailiff, and some require these officials to carry out the service. Private investigators also perform process server tasks, and in states like Texas, process servers are certified by way of a Supreme Court order. These individuals operate under the Process Server Review Board, the entity charged with regulating the industry in that state.
In some instances the documents may be served upon an alternate individual who is of suitable age at the defendant’s dwelling, including another adult or a teenager, either of whom reside at the home. When the suit involves a corporation or an LLC, service may be accomplished by handing the documents over to a “registered agent” of the business; these ways of delivering court documents are called substituted service. For some small claims court suits, service of process may be completed through the mail. On rare occasions, when a defendant cannot be found within the jurisdiction where the legal action was initiated, a court order can allow exceptions, such as service by way of documents published in a newspaper. This way of completing service is also used when a defendant lives outside the United States and their whereabouts are not known.
Generally, when serving a defendant on a foreign country, you must follow the procedures outlined under the Hague Service Convention. This method is appropriate as long as the person to be served resides in a country that has signed onto the treaty.
When service of process is carried out properly, the defendant then stands to lose the case by default should they elect to ignore further court proceedings, with their only recourse being a motion to contest the default finding in their home state.
The process server plays a critical role in upholding the rights of all American citizens to due process of law, rights that are spelled out in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. By giving all involved parties in a lawsuit proper notice, process servers are also giving the recipients the chance to respond to the claim and defend themselves in court.