Staying Within the Law When Executing Service of Process

Those who are involved in service of process have difficult work to do. Process servers bear the task of delivering important court documents to individuals and/or entities. Failure to do so properly can ruin a case, particularly if the statute of limitations deadline is near. Many people who are being served with court papers, whether a complaint and summons or subpoena to appear or produce documents, have misconceptions of service of process and as a result challenge delivery. For this reason, it is critical for process servers to be familiar with the governing rules to ensure proper service.

Know the Rules

A process server must know the rules governing service of process. This includes reviewing federal, state, and local laws. Doing so helps the process server to properly meet the needs of the individual(s) being served, the client, and the courts without running afoul of the rules.

Below are several tips all process servers should follow when doing their job to avoid being sued or failing to properly serve.

  • Jurisdiction Matters: Do not Guess the Laws and Rules. To make things even more complicated, each state has its own set of rules, governing laws, and general practices when it comes to service of process. Notably, there are rules that govern how service can be made, days when service is barred, who is allowed to accept service, and other details. If a service process has to cross state lines to attempt to serve someone, it is critical that he or she check the rules in the new state as there may be important differences;
  • Be Sure to Keep Far from the Mailbox. While it is not an actual crime to notice an address that is posted on the side of a mailbox, that is basically as far as a service processor can go. In short, anything else having to do with mailboxes is off limits when it comes to proper service of process. Keep in mind that tampering with another’s mail remains a federal crime. For more information on laws governing the postal code, visit 18 U.S. Code  § 1708;
  • Do Not Act or Disguise Yourself. It is no secret that delivering court documents is a serious matter. That being said, sometimes service processors are forced to take extreme measures in order to reach and properly serve the individual. While creativity in doing so is allowed, a process server should not be deceitful. This is particularly dangerous when he or she pretends to be a police officer or government official as doing so is against the law;
  • Do Not Enter a Place Until Invited. Common sense should dictate that a service processor should not enter a home or property unless and until he or she is invited in. Trespassing, which is entering another’s property without permission, is against the law. So, even if the service processor knows the person is home and not responding, he or she should not try to go inside the property.

While process servers generally work with respect for those whom they are serving with court papers and also with professionalism and integrity when reporting back to a client, doing the work is not easy. Indeed, process servers often have to go to great lengths to serve the documents upon a party. For this reason, sometimes service processors are walking a fine line between complying with the law and breaking the law in order to serve someone.