Process Service: 4 Things You Need To Know

Process service, or “service of process” as expressed by some old-school legal types and official law books, is where one party in a lawsuit gives the other party notice and time to respond to a complaint. In Alabama, this is laid out in Rule 4, Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure. The rule is similar in other states but clearly lays out who can do the serving and who can be served.

Service of process is an essential step in commencing a civil lawsuit. In fact, service of process is so essential in a lawsuit that, if it is not performed properly, a lawsuit cannot proceed. Service of process is critical because it establishes that the court hearing the lawsuit has jurisdiction over the defendant. –National Paralegal College

This seems like a simple process, but there can be significant issues if the procedure is not done properly. Often times the respondent (person being served) can’t be found or may even dodge service. Sometimes, people representing themselves try to serve the person. This can be problematic because of the rules stated above.   Here, I will try and explain why professional servers are necessary and critical to your case.

Who can do the serving?

  In this article, we will be discussing rules for Alabama. The rules vary by state so consult with your attorney before setting out to serve a subpoena on your own. In Alabama the documents can be served “By a Sheriff or Constable. When process is issued from any court subject to the provisions of these rules is to be delivered personally within this state, the clerk of the court shall deliver or mail the process and sufficient copies of the process and complaint, or other documents to be served, to the sheriff or constable of the county in which the party to be served resides or may be found.” – Rule 4.  

That is a complex way of saying that the Sheriff, Constable, or one of their deputies can serve the documents. A deputy will take the documents, and during the course of his or her day, will attempt to deliver the documents. Now, a deputy’s priority during the shift is not delivery of these documents. If they get to them, they will deliver them. They will usually make one attempt.   Also, the documents can be delivered by a private person. Rule 4: “By Designated Person. As an alternative to delivery by the sheriff, or when process is to be delivered personally outside this state, process issuing from any court governed by these rules may be served by any person not less than nineteen (19) years of age, who is not a party and is not related within the third degree by blood or marriage to the party seeking service of process.”   Another complex way of saying any person, over that age of 19, not listed on the documents, and not related to either party, can deliver the documents. These are usually professionals who handle service work as their livelihood.   I have to mention that some lawyers still try an attempt service through certified mail. This is legal. However, this has become increasingly unreliable as most respondents fail to return the certified mail receipt or ignore the correspondence.

Private Service Companies

 Process servers are either independent or work for larger firms. They spend all their days looking for and serving people. It is not a secondary job for them. Many work for firms that only serve documents and a lot work for private investigation firms. This is a natural fit because these firms have all the tools to look up license plates, phone numbers, and addresses.   Private servers will give you 3-4 attempts for a set fee. In remote locations, there may be a mileage fee.  Just like deputies, these servers will testify under oath that they in fact served the person. The great ones will accompany this with photographic evidence.  

Personal service of process has been the hallmark for initialing litigation for nearly 100 years, primarily because it guarantees actual notice to a defendant of a legal action against him or her. It remains a touchstone, and the “ideal circumstance under which to commence legal proceedings” against a person. – Steven Teppler, National Law Review

Are they reliable?

These companies will typically be listed on Google or some form of social media. Look for social proof that they are reliable. Negative reviews will tell you a story about their timeliness and trustworthiness. If you see a lot of negative reviews, I would go to the next company. Speak to them on the phone and see if you trust them or not.   Often, law firms have a process service firm they know and trust. In this case, you do not have to go out and find one. You may hear from the server to learn more about the respondent. If they do call you, give them all of the information you have  to help them get documents delivered in a timely manner so you can get on with your life.  

Common Questions Regarding Service of Process

  Here are the most common questions we receive daily regarding process service:  

An arrest warrant was issued against him for hitting me, can you serve the warrant? No. Warrants are a criminal matter that originates from the prosecutors office and approved by a judge. These will be served by the policing jurisdiction in your area.

Your fees are too high. Can I deliver them myself? If you are listed as a party on the document, or are related in the 3rd degree to either listed party, you cannot serve them.

I want photographic evidence of the documents being delivered. Can you do that for me? Yes. We used mobile devices to document the transactions.

How many attempts will you make to deliver the documents? At my firm, we make 3 attempts. One day attempt, one night attempt, and one attempt on the weekend or at work.

What if the documents are not delivered? You will receive an Affidavit of Non-Service. In this statement, the process server will describe the attempts made in a statement. At this point, your lawyer may make a pleading with the judge to continue or serve by publication depending upon the legal standard. Your attorney will know what to do at this point.  

I hope this article helps you understand the process of filing a claim in court and what happens behind the scenes. There are many more rules regarding incarcerated persons, mentally handicapped, and children. If you have questions or need help with process service, give us a call today.

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