Summons is a mandate requiring the appearance of the defendant in the action in court under the penalty of having judgment entered (against him or her) for failure to do so. The object of the summons is to notify the defendant that he or she has been sued (Barron’s Law Dictionary).

The summons is issued by the court in a civil case to acquire jurisdiction over the person of the defendant or the person being sued. This allows the defendant to participate in the court proceedings, and be subject to its processes and judgments. Essentially, it satisfies the requirement of due process.

For the plaintiff, the issuance of summons means that he has paid the legal fees, the case has a docket number, and the court has not dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction over the action, litis pendentia (two pending cases involving the same parties, issues and reliefs), res judicata (previous judgment), or statute of limitations under Rule 9, Section 1 of the Amended Rules of Civil Procedure (ARCP).

For the defendant, the receipt of the summons means that from that point, the time for him to file an answer is starting to run out. Under the ARCP, the period to file an Answer is 30 days. The defendant may also opt to file a Motion to Dismiss on grounds enumerated in Rule 15, Section 12 of the ARCP. If he fails to file an Answer, he can be declared in default (Section 3, Rule 9, ARCP).

However, the service of summons on the defendant is not as simple as it may appear. If the defendant is a natural person or an individual, the summons must be personally handed to him by the sheriff, deputy sheriff or process server unless the plaintiff has been authorized by the court to serve summons to the defendant (Section 3, Rule 14, ARCP).

The court may authorize the plaintiff to serve summons together with the sheriff if there was failure of service. If the summons is returned without being served to any and all the defendants, the court shall order the plaintiff to serve summons. Failure to comply with the order shall cause the dismissal of the complaint without prejudice which means that the case can be refiled again (Section 3, Rule 14, ARCP).

If the defendant refuses to receive the summons when handed to him by the sheriff, the sheriff may “tender the summons” by leaving the summons “within the view and in the presence of the defendant” (Section 5, Rule 14, ARCP). Hence, the sheriff cannot: (a) throw the summons towards the direction of the house; (b) leave it in the mailbox outside of the house; or (c) place it on a car windshield believing that it is the car of the defendant.

The primary duty of the sheriff is to serve the summons to the defendant in person. Only if the summons cannot be served personally after at least three attempts on two separate dates can the summons be served to persons other than the defendant. Service of the summons to persons other than the defendant is known as substituted service. The substituted service is only utilized if there is impossibility of personal service (Section 6, Rule 14, ARCP; People’s General Insurance Corp. v. Guansing, G.R. No. 204759, November 14, 2018).

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