Welcome to the Lafayette Process Servers LLC podcast. I’m your host Scott Frank, and in today’s episode, we are going to talk about how to ensure that one’s legal papers get served; the different steps one can take to ensure timely delivery, and tips on how one can locate and make sure that the papers are served to the defendant, whether they are elusive or not.
Before we delve into detail about the topic at hand, let us first revisit and understand the importance of serving papers and why it is crucial to ensure their service.
Let’s assume an instance where you are planning to take legal action against your business. To do so, you are required by the law to provide a service of process to notify the individual/business you are suing that a legal suit has been filed against them.
As we know, the service of process is a formal notice that is sent to the other side to notify them that you have started the legal process. In the same way, when you are already involved in a case and file papers with the court, you are required to give the other side notice of the paperwork you have filed. And the legal way to give formal notice is to have the other side “served” with a copy of the paperwork such as summonses, complaints, subpoenas, etc. that you may have filed with the court.
The most important reason as to why ensuring proper service is employed is because it is stated in the Constitution that a case may be dismissed if a defendant can prove improper service.
But, why exactly would the service of paperwork be so critical? So much so to the extent that it can cause a judge to completely throw out a legal matter altogether? Well, let’s break it down by understanding some preliminary civil law.
The plaintiff, the one who is suing, serves the defendant, the one being sued, summonses, and complaints. The defendant is then allotted a certain time period within which they are expected to answer the complaint and file it with the court. However, if they do not file a timely answer, they may be subject to a default judgment, which would mean that the plaintiff automatically wins the case. And this is why it is crucial to provide evidence that the defendant was in fact served to prove that they were aware of the proceedings. And in the case that they couldn’t be served, it becomes vital for the plaintiff to submit proof to the court to show that every legal requirement was made to alert the defendant of the pending suit.
So, now that we have understood the importance of proper service and why it is crucial to ensure legal service, let us explore the various steps that could be followed to ensure that their legal papers get served in an effective manner:
Get all basic information before service
One of the best steps you can take to make your life easier is to obtain as much information as you can from your client about the person you are serving. Your client will not always have helpful information but every little bit helps.
Find all you can about their identity: first name, last name, middle name, nickname, age, date of birth, place of birth, the last city they lived in. It would also be helpful if you knew any relatives or friends of the defendant, their names, and where they live. A basic Internet search might help you with the person’s phone number and address. Make sure you question their neighbors to learn more about their schedules.
Or you can do it the old fashion way: call information and ask for this data. If you already know the defendant’s phone number, you can use a reverse telephone directory that might lead you to the person’s address.
If nothing works, you can always try your luck with social media and see if the individual has listed their address, phone number, or employer information, or hire a private process server to skip trace them. If you know their employer’s address, you can always serve your papers there. Looking up property records might also help with an address, especially if you know the individual you want to serve as a property in a certain jurisdiction.
Some other questions that can be addressed to obtain more info don’t he defendant can be as such:
- What is the defendant’s schedule?
Do they work normal hours? This information will help you craft a plan to get the defendant served on your first attempt. It doesn’t do you any good to attempt service to an empty house. This information is also crucial so you don’t waste time staking out a house at times the defendant is unlikely to come or go.
- What kind of vehicle does the defendant drive?
If the defendant’s car is in the driveway, you know there is a better chance that the defendant is home. Feel the hood of the car before you knock on the door. Is it warm? That means the car was driven recently which may indicate a higher likelihood that the defendant is there. Having this information allows you to hone in and figure out whether they are home and hiding.
- What does the defendant look like?
Your client providing a photo of the defendant is ideal but even if they do not have one, get a description of the person you are serving. If you know your defendant is 6’4” and 300 pounds, you can play your hand differently if a short, skinny guy answers the door. Furthermore, having an idea of what your defendant looks like is incredibly helpful when you encounter a person fitting the description that tries to lie about his or her identity. Being confident in asking questions of a person you believe to be the defendant helps break through their lies so you can complete the serve.
Be aware of service rules
Under court procedure, legal proceedings must be formally served upon a defendant using certain defined methods. This means that it remains valid to serve a company at its registered office or an individual at their home address by first class post, document exchange, or other services which provide for delivery. This means that defendants may need to take proactive steps to avoid being caught unawares. This is particularly so where there is a risk that unscrupulous claimants may seek to take advantage of the situation to serve proceedings knowing they will not come to the attention of the defendant and then take steps to secure a default judgment as a result of no response to the claim being provided within the relevant time limits.
Utilize skip tracing services
Skip tracing is a legal action that involves assessing information on the subject and uncovering facts in order to locate someone and serve them with legal documents. Skip tracing becomes necessary whenever you have a court case in which the other party cannot be located. In most instances, court cases cannot move forward until the other party has been served with legal documents. There are many cases where people go to extreme lengths to avoid due process. In their effort to avoid service, they might even change addresses or jobs which would make them hard to find. Or sometimes you just might need to serve someone whose information you don’t have. In such cases, a process server can utilize skip tracing techniques to find the respective people and serve them on time. In general, the process of skip tracing involves utilizing databases, understanding where and how to search for information, and following up on leads to find a hard-to-find person of interest. Skip tracing professionals conduct interviews and assess information about their subjects.
In a quest to find the individual, skip tracers usually retrieve the following kinds of information about the target:
- Phone number
- Current address
- Place of work
- ID or driver’s license number
- Social Security Number
- Driver’s license
- Credit reports
- Credit card applications
- Loan applications
- Vehicle registration departments
- Job applications
- Phone number databases
- Utility bills
- Flight records
- Department store/customer loyalty card
- Consumer fraud
- Public tax information
- Public records databases
- Air travel records
- Criminal background checks
- Courthouse records
These pieces of information can help the skip tracers to locate the person and deliver necessary legal documents for the case. In addition to professional process servers, there are whole companies that are dedicated to performing skip tracing. Although these companies have access to a wide variety of resources, it is not always possible to locate a person. If the subject cannot be found, then the skip tracing company will create an affidavit of diligence. This affidavit is legally admissible in a court of law and will explain to the court why the individual in question cannot be located.
Employ indirect modes of service through their peers
The process depends on the state’s unique laws, but, in general, the refusal of a defendant to accept legal papers does little to deter the process. If a process server has identified someone as the recipient of the legal documents, they can leave them with you whether they physically accept them or not.
Legally, depending on the documents, the respective defendants can be sub-served on their behalf to a capable individual over the age of 18 who:
- Lives in their home
- Works at their place of business
- Is in charge of their usual place of mailing
All such methods are employed to ensure that such elusive defendants get served with the respective papers.
Employ non-face-to-face methods of service
Upon failure to follow through on a personal face-to-face serve, various other methods also exist such as:
- Service by Certified Mail
Let’s assume that the process server has tried to get someone at home or work but hasn’t had any luck. Next, the person serving can try sending the documents through the mail.
Service of process by certified mail is acceptable and legal in some states so long as they can provide proof that the papers were sent, and that there wasn’t a problem with the address.
- Service by Posting on Your Door
After several attempts, a motion can be filed with the court, and the judge will authorize the process server to post on the avoidant defendant’s front door. Sometimes, the process servers even take pictures of the posting on the front door and submit that to the court with their affidavit of service.
- Service through social media
The newest and perhaps least widely accepted option is to use social media as a way to process serve. This involves using a social media network such as Facebook or Twitter to send the papers to the recipient. Again, proof of the serve will be needed.
- Service by Notice
Finally, if all other methods of reaching a person have failed, the court can allow the person suing to serve them by a notice placed in a local newspaper.
As long as the paper is circulated in the area where they live and meets certain other criteria, the court can consider them served with just an advertisement.
Make sure to get proof of service
Valid service of the process ends with proof of service. If the court clerk served the papers by certified mail, you don’t need to do anything else. They’ll be the ones receiving the post office receipt and this finalizes the process.
However, if you have served your papers by a private process server, you’re required to notify the court by filing a form known as Proof of Service. The form can be found at the court clerk’s office and needs to be signed by the person that actually served the papers.
Remember, if you are ever in need of experienced process servers, then Lafayette is your answer! Contact us at 1-866-237-2853 or send us an email inquiry at [email protected]
And that wraps up our episode for today. Thank you for listening and we’ll see you next time!
The foregoing podcast has simply been presented for informational purposes only. He or those at Lafayette Process Servers LLC, are not attorneys. If you seek further information about this topic, please make sure to contact an attorney in your local area.