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From Wikipedia, “Service of Process is the procedure by which a party to a lawsuit gives an appropriate notice of initial legal action to another party (such as a defendant), court, or administrative body in an effort to exercise jurisdiction over that person so as to enable that person to respond to the proceeding before the court, body, or other tribunal.”

Notice is furnished by delivering a set of court documents (called “process”) to the person to be served.

Personal Service by Process Server

Personal service is service of process directly to the (or a) party named on the summons, complaint, or petition. In most lawsuits in the United States, personal service is required to prove service. Most states allow substituted service in almost all lawsuits unless you are serving a corporation, LLC, LLP, or other business entity; in those cases, personal service must be achieved by serving (in hand) the documents to the “Registered Agent” of a business entity. Some states, e.g. Florida, do not require that the documents actually be handed to the individual. In California and most other states, the documents must be visible to the person being served, i.e., not in a sealed envelope.

If the individual refuses to accept service, flees, closes the door, etc., and the individual has been positively identified as the person to be served, the documents may be “drop served” (placed as close to the individual as possible); this is considered a valid service. Personal service of process has been the hallmark for initiating litigation for nearly 100 years, primarily because it guarantees actual notice to a defendant of a legal action against him or her. Personal service of process remains the most reliable and efficacious way to both ensure compliance with constitutionally imposed due process requirements of notice to a defendant and the opportunity to be heard.

Many states have process serving laws that govern the way service of process is effected, the licensing requirements to effect service, the forms to be used and the time deadlines that service of process may be accomplished upon individual respondents and corporations. These differences may be vast. For example, in New York, service of process may require licensing of the process server; process servicein Pennsylvania, process may only be served by the sheriff or a sheriff’s deputy in most cases (except in Philadelphia, where process may be served “by any competent adult”);[12] and in New Jersey, process is effected if, after making an affidavit that diligent efforts to effect personal service had failed, the party sends two copies of the pleading by mail—one by regular mail and one by certified mail, return receipt requested—and either the certified mail receipt is returned signed or the certified mail envelope is returned unclaimed and the regular mail is not returned to the sender.

Generally, there are specific procedures and rules for most courts, from local small claims courts to United States District courts. Each court has specific rules, forms, guidelines and procedures which must be followed in order to successfully effect service of process. Failure to follow these guidelines may deem the attempted service improper. Indeed, many defendants in court hearings use the affirmative defense of “I was not served” as an often successful line of defense in any lawsuit. Not surprisingly, this defense tends to be effective in many cases because service of process upon defendant did not follow legal procedure. As for United States federal courts, service of process rules are in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, upon which most state service of process laws are based.