What Exactly Can a Process Server Do to Serve Papers?
Gregg Hollander | June 30, 2023 | Florida Law
When you hear about a lawsuit, one aspect that often eludes people is the serving of legal documents to the parties involved. Process servers handle this crucial part of the legal process. They are responsible for ensuring that all parties receive timely notice of the action against them.
It’s helpful to understand the roles and responsibilities of process servers, the various methods they use to serve papers, and what they’re prohibited from doing.
What Is the Role of a Process Server?
Process servers are responsible for delivering various types of legal documents, such as subpoenas, complaints for personal injury cases, summonses, and eviction notices. They must uphold the law and follow strict guidelines when carrying out their duties.
Here is a rundown of what a process server needs to do:
Locate the recipient: Often, process servers are required to track down individuals who might be trying to hide or evade the process. They may use tools like online databases or engage in field research, conducting interviews with relatives, neighbors, and coworkers to locate the person who needs to be served.
Follow proper documentation procedures: Once the papers have been served, process servers need to complete a proof of service or affidavit indicating that they have completed the task. This document is then filed with the court to verify that the intended party has received notice of their involvement in a legal matter.
Maintain professionalism: Process servers must remain unbiased and professional when conducting their duties, even in difficult or tense situations.
Methods of Serving Papers
Process servers have several means to deliver court documents effectively.
Here are some ways they serve people:
- Personal service: This is the most straightforward and preferred method of serving documents, which involves hand-delivering the papers directly to the recipient. The process server approaches the person, identifies them, and hands over the documents.
- Substitute service: When the defendant is not found at their home, the process server may use substituted service – a method that allows the papers to be left with someone 15 or older.
- Service by mail: In some cases, papers may be mailed to the recipient, either via regular mail or certified mail, with a return receipt requested. The courts can also authorize the use of electronic means like email or fax in certain circumstances.
- Service by publication: This method of service is a last resort used when a defendant or party cannot be located after an exhaustive search. The process server may request permission from the court to publish the legal notice in a local newspaper or online.
The court requires the process server to meet a high bar before allowing service by publication.
Under the Florida rules of civil procedure, the server must attest that they attempted to serve the documents in several locations and performed an exhaustive search to find the party through various resources, including:
- Local hospitals
- Local jails
- Tax offices
- The Department of Motor Vehicles
Only after these steps does a court allow service by publication.
What Process Servers Cannot Do
Just as important as what a process server can do is understanding what they cannot do.
Here are some activities that are off-limits for process servers:
- Tampering with mailboxes: Process servers cannot go through a person’s mailbox to see if they’re receiving mail. This act is a violation of federal law.
- Misrepresenting their identity: It is illegal for process servers to lie about who they are or what they are doing. They must follow all state and federal laws regarding their identity and the nature of their job.
- Impersonating a law enforcement officer: Process servers cannot pose as law enforcement officers, as doing so is illegal and a breach of trust in their profession.
- Trespassing: Process servers must adhere to all state and federal laws, which include regulations prohibiting trespassing. They cannot enter private property without permission or in violation of “no trespassing” signs.
- Using physical force: Process servers cannot use physical force or threats to serve papers.
- Serving on Sundays: Process servers are not permitted to serve papers on Sundays. This rule originates from the idea of Sunday as a day of rest, meaning that serving papers on this day is prohibited.
If you have any questions about process servers or need help with a legal matter, contact us today to schedule a free consultation.
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