Lawsuits generally begin with one party filing the case in court. The other party must then be notified about the suit. This notification is called the service of process and is used as a formal way to notify any parties being sued that they are involved in the suit and have the opportunity to defend against the claims. It is important to understand what the service of process is and how it works.
What is Service of Process?
Service of process is simply the act of serving lawsuit documents to a party. Civil lawsuits can include a wide range of different topics, from divorce proceedings to personal injury lawsuits, and all of them begin with a service of process. Once the lawsuit has been filed with the courts, the other party or parties involved must be notified that they’re being sued with sufficient time to allow them to file a response. The service of process must be done following the guidelines put forth by the state to ensure the other party is notified in a timely manner and does receive the documents needed to understand why they’re being sued and what the lawsuit includes.
When Service of Process is Used
Service of process is used when any civil lawsuit is started. This includes the following situations but can include any other type of civil lawsuit, as well.
- Divorce Proceedings – When a couple decides to divorce, one person will generally file for the divorce and then serve the papers to their spouse.
- Breach of Contract – If a contract is breached, the party who is damaged by the breach may sue the party that caused the breach for damages. A service of process is needed to alert the other party to the lawsuit.
- Personal Injury Suits – If someone injured due to the negligence or direct action of another person or business is unable to receive sufficient compensation for their injuries, they can serve the liable party with a lawsuit.
- Property Disputes – Property disputes can arise due to errors or misunderstandings with boundaries, misuse of land, and for other reasons. When there is a dispute, one party may end up serving the other with a lawsuit.
- Landlord/Tenant Disputes – If a landlord is not adhering to the lease or a tenant has stopped paying rent and needs to be evicted, a lawsuit may be needed. Serving papers is necessary to start the lawsuit.
Who is Eligible to Serve Papers
In Missouri, anyone who is at least 18 years of age and who is not involved in the lawsuit in any way is eligible to serve the papers for the service of process. However, it is important to make sure the job is done right and that the other party cannot claim they never received the papers. For this reason, many people will opt to have the Sheriff’s department serve the papers or have a registered agent do it. Depending on the potential reaction to being served papers, this can also be a safer way to make sure the papers are served correctly and without any issues.
Who Can be Served
Anyone can be served papers for a lawsuit, but some lawsuits will become invalid because of who is served. For instance, while it is possible to serve a minor with a lawsuit, the minor is not able to defend themselves in the lawsuit and is likely not the liable party because of their age. It is important to understand the rules for who can be sued before filing a lawsuit and going through the service of process. Otherwise, it may end up being a waste of time and money for the party serving the papers.
Three Types of Service
There is more than one way to serve papers to the other party in a lawsuit. While the most common is to provide the papers to the other party in person, this is not always possible. It is necessary to make sure the service of process is done according to the law and to receive permission when necessary to use alternative methods. Lawsuit paperwork can be provided to other parties through an email, but this will not count as the service of process. It is important to make sure the party receives a physical copy of all documents for the service of process to be valid.
Actual or Personal
The most common way for the service of process to be done is in person. For this, the agent serving the papers will attempt to contact the party being sued in person by visiting their home or place of work. They may visit other places, as well, if it increases the opportunity to find the person and serve them the papers. This does not need to take long and can be as simple as confirming their identity and then handing them the lawsuit papers. Once the papers are given to the party, proof of service is needed. If the person does not come to the door, it may be necessary to look into alternative ways to serve the papers.
If personal service is not possible, then it may be an option to leave the papers with someone else who lives at the same home. In Missouri, it is possible to leave the paperwork with someone else in the home, so long as they are a resident at least 15 years of age or older. Substitute service, when possible, can also include leaving a physical copy at the party’s home or workplace, as well as mailing a copy to the person’s last known address. If the documents are provided to another person in the household, proof of service by substitution may be needed.
When other methods have failed, alternative ways to serve papers may be required. In these cases, any alternative service done must be approved by the courts before it is used. The courts will determine if the papers can be serviced through the mail, by publication, or through another method. In most cases, emailing the documents will not be allowed as an alternative method for serving the papers. When mailing paperwork, after approval from the courts, it is necessary to use certified mail to be sure it is signed for by the party receiving the documents.
Proof of Service or Non-Service
When papers are served to the party being sued, the server must submit a proof of service to the courts. It is crucial to make sure this is done as quickly as possible after the papers are served. A proof of service does need to be notarized, but there are options available to get this done as quickly as possible. The form will generally require the server to fill out the information about when and how the papers were served, as well as who received them if they were served by substitution. If it is not possible to serve the other party, the server can fill out a proof of non-service to submit to the courts. A proof of non-service does not need to be notarized.
Deadlines for Serving Papers
Stage guidelines dictate when papers must be served for the start of a lawsuit. For Missouri, the paperwork must be delivered at least 15 days prior to the date on the court summons to give the other party an opportunity to respond to the lawsuit. Proof of service must be completed as soon as possible after the papers are served. A summons is only valid for 30 to 60 days, so service of process cannot be done more than 60 days in advance of the summons date. Court officials can help explain any deadlines further to help prevent any potential issues when serving the papers.
What Happens if Someone Can’t be Served?
There are instances when someone can’t be served. In these cases, the server or involved party may try service of process by substitution or may request an alternative service method through the courts. If it’s still not possible to serve the other party, a proof of non-service will need to be filled out. The party filing the lawsuit can then request a default judgment, or the case can be postponed to allow the party a longer opportunity to serve the papers. The exact outcome of this situation can depend on the type of case, the attempted methods for serving papers, and why the papers could not be served.
Whether someone is filing a lawsuit or is expecting to be sued, it’s important to understand the service of process and the local laws that regulate this service. Service of process is a step that must be done to begin the lawsuit, as it is required for everyone involved with the lawsuit to be aware it is happening. A failure to serve papers properly could jeopardize the case, so it is important to make sure everything is done correctly, and that approval is requested if alternative methods are needed to serve the other party with the lawsuit documents.
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