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Don't Bother Avoiding Process Servers

By Arin E. Berkson, J.D. | Last updated on

Many people think they can avoid a lawsuit by avoiding a process server. These people are wrong.

The law knows these tricks and has made provisions in the Rules of Civil Procedure for difficult-to-serve defendants. Just because you avoid a process server, it doesn't mean you can't be served and sued. It just means the plaintiff has to opt for plans B or C.

What Is Personal Service?

Before discussing plans B and C, let's talk about personal service. Personal service is when a process server personally hands legal documents to a defendant. Often this method of service will happen at your door. This is the best option for service, and most states require that process servers attempt it a handful of times before a plaintiff turns to alternative plans, officially known as substitute service.

There is also a common misconception associated with personal service. Some people believe that the papers must touch them or that they must sign an acknowledgment of receipt. This is generally wrong. If the process server says, "George Smith, you've been served," and then drops the papers in front of you, then you've most likely legally been served.

Other Methods of Service

If you're so good at avoiding process servers that they can't make personal service upon you, you're unfortunately still not good enough. Eventually, a plaintiff can serve papers by substitute service.

Substitute service usually includes:

  • Leaving court papers at the defendant's home or workplace with a competent adult
  • Mailing a copy of the summons and complaint via certified mail (or by first class mail or email in some circumstances) to the defendant's home or workplace

You can't really avoid either of these, can you? And if you can, enter plan C. In situations when other means of proper service fail, a judge will grant the plaintiff permission to provide service by publication. This typically involves taking out ads or posting a legal notice in local newspapers, which is kind of embarrassing. Plus, you don't even have to see the ad to be sued.

And while it’s not common enough to be called plan D yet, judges have given the go-ahead for service by social media in a small number of court cases when all other methods of service fail.

You Can Try to Hide, but You Can’t Evade Service of Process

Although any legal action can’t move forward until the service of process is made, avoiding process servers can be a pretty big waste of time and effort. Sure, you may be able to delay responding to a lawsuit for a few weeks or months, but in the end, you're still going to be sued.

As exhibit A of what happens when you try to evade service of process, see the news involving Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige. A judge ruled there was proof of service made upon Miscavige in a court case where plaintiffs performed due diligence by making 27 unsuccessful cross-country attempts at personal service and sending multiple packages of court documents by certified mail that were returned to sender without signature. Awaiting ruling is Miscavige’s recently filed objection to that judge’s ruling.

What Should I Do if I’ve Been Served?

Legal proceedings are often complex. If you’ve been served, you should strongly consider contacting an experienced attorney who can give you personalized legal advice that protects your legal rights and best interests.

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