Hannah Locklear | December 16, 2022
Summary: A process server can leave a Summons taped to your door if they’ve already tried (and failed) to deliver it in person or through the mail. Process servers must follow federal and state laws, and only qualified people can be process servers. Below is everything you should know.
“You’ve been served.”
These are words you probably don’t want to hear, whether you’re being served divorce papers, a Summons for debt collection, or some other type of court documents.
Every state has different laws when it comes to the service of court papers, but overall, process servers must follow a few specific regulations. For one, a process server cannot break the law when trying to serve papers. This might include laws on trespassing, breaking and entering, and more. As a result, process servers often get creative and almost cross the line in order to serve someone, but not quite.
In this post, we’ll break down what you should know about process servers, whether or not they can leave a Summons taped to your door, and how court documents are properly served.
Before we start, we want to emphasize, once more, that service laws and process server requirements vary by state.
Now, let’s jump right in.
To be a process server you must be over 18 years old, and not a party to the lawsuit. So, while a person could be a professional process server, they might also be a county sheriff or even a friend of the party who initiated the case.
It’s interesting that process servers are not required to complete a course or have a specific education. They are simply responsible for knowing and understanding the laws related to serving legal documents in the state.
In some states, a process server that serves more than ten legal documents a year must be registered. When they register, they will do so with the clerk of court in the county in which they live, or they have their principal place of business. If a business intends to offer process services then it must also maintain a certificate of registration.
Some individuals are exempt from registering as a process server. This includes law enforcement officers, as well as attorneys and their employees. Additionally, anyone who is appointed by the court to serve its process is not required to register.
Other exempt individuals include licensed private investigators and their employees, along with professional photocopiers who respond to records production requests and subpoenas.
Let’s look at an example of process server requirements in the state of Texas.
“Process—including citation and other notices, writs, orders, and other papers issued by the court—may be served anywhere by (1) any sheriff or constable or other person authorized by law, (2) any person authorized by law or by written order of the court who is not less than eighteen years of age, or (3) any person certified under order of the Supreme Court. Service by registered or certified mail and citation by publication must, if requested, be made by the clerk of the court in which the case is pending. But no person who is a party to or interested in the outcome of a suit may serve any process in that suit, and, unless otherwise authorized by a written court order, only a sheriff or constable may serve a citation in an action of forcible entry and detainer, a writ that requires the actual taking of possession of a person, property or thing, or process requiring that an enforcement action be physically enforced by the person delivery the process. The order authorizing a person to serve process may be made without written motion and no fee may be imposed for issuance of such order.”
In other words, as outlined by Texas state laws, process servers can be a sheriff, constable, someone authorized by law, or anyone who has been authorized by a court order to serve legal documents. Process servers cannot be a party to the case, or have any sort of interest in the case, and they must be at least 18 years old.
The main job of a process server is to deliver legal documents. This is either to an individual or party named in the action. The purpose of process service is to place the party on notice that the legal action has taken place. It may also be to notify that a relevant document has been filed in the case.
Some documents in a legal action must be served in a manner outlined by governing rules. This might include serving a document face to face with the receiver. When this type of service occurs, it will be required that the receiver is identified, and then handed the “served” document.
Whether a process server is doing their job at a place of work or a residence, breaking and entering is never allowed. Despite this, most process servers begin personal service by attempting to serve the person at their home. Most often they can avoid trespassing by staying outside a locked gate, and avoiding going into a locked building without permission.
While process servers may not legally enter a building, they may leave a summons taped outside of your door, as long as it does not display the contents. Most often though, a process server will come back if you are not home, or wait for you to leave to catch you while walking. If you are avoiding being served, the process server may wait until you are forced to leave or enter the location in which they are staying at.
Process servers can never force you to open a door. This also means that they cannot legally threaten or push you to open the door. This would be considered forced entry, and the document would not be legally served.
If a process server pretends to be a police officer, this is completely illegal. Under no circumstance can a process server pretend to be a police officer or other court official to force you to open the door. You can refuse to open the door, and if they force you to open the door by saying they are a law enforcement officer, they can be prosecuted.
While a process server cannot harass or stalk you, they can wait for you. This is typically called a stakeout, and if they wish to serve you with legal documents, they might wait outside of your home, business, for you to exit. Another common stakeout location is to stand outside of a known friend or family member's home.
Process servers often look to leave papers with someone who might answer the door to your home. Despite this being a good idea, they cannot do so with a minor. Although you may be avoiding the process server and avoiding service, this is unreliable. By leaving the papers with anyone who is under the age of 18 years, you are not considered served. The only time a process server can leave your papers with another adult is if you are evasive, and the other person is an adult household member.
Let’s consider another example of rules of service in Texas.
“Method of Service:
(a) Unless the citation or court order otherwise directs, the citation must be served by:
(1) delivering to the defendant, in person, a copy of the citation, showing the delivery date, and of the petition; or
(2) mailing to the defendant by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, a copy of the citation and of the petition.
(b) Upon motion supported by a statement-sworn to before a notary or made under penalty of perjury-listing any location where the defendant can probably be found and stating specifically the facts showing that service has been attempted under (a)(1) or (a)(2) at the location named in the statement but has not been successful, the court may authorize service:
(1) by leaving a copy of the citation and of the petition with anyone older than sixteen at the location specified in the statement; or
(2) in any other manner, including electronically by social media, email, or other technology, that the statement or other evidence shows will be reasonably effective to give the defendant notice of the suit.”
So, in Texas, proper service of a Summons includes the following:
If a process server is unsuccessful in serving you, then the attorney may file a motion with the court. This motion may ask the court to serve you in a different manner. This may end up with the court granting a motion to serve by public notice, which is essentially through the mail or in a different method. Typically if you are not served by a process server for debt, it will be done through the mail or by phone.
Below are some frequently asked questions about process servers and what qualifies as proper service. Keep in mind that laws vary by state, so check your state’s Rules of Civil Procedure before drawing any final conclusions.
Technically, a process server can come to your house however many times it takes to successfully serve you. That being said, most process servers will try another method of service, such as mailing the document, before coming back to your home repeatedly.
Yes, a process server can leave papers with someone else as long as that person is of a sound mind, is competent, and is of a certain age. Usually that age is 18 years old.
In many cases, especially debt collection lawsuits, the case isn’t officially open until service of the Summons is complete. As such, a process server doesn’t really have a time limit to serve papers, but they will typically try to get it done within 24 hours of the Summons being filed with the court.
Again, laws vary by state, but a process server can typically come to your home to deliver papers at any time. That’s right, a process server can technically come to your home 24 hours a day. However, most process servers will try to keep things professional and only knock on your door if it is within reasonable hours.
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