When Attempted Service of Process Fails

To initiate a case that is not initiated by agreement, the other party has to be served notice of process. The service itself is simple; the sheriff goes out to the person’s residence or place of employment and hands them copies of what has been filed in the case, including a Summons. This person is then considered “served” and they have 30 days from the date of service to file an appearance or cause an appearance to be filed on their behalf. If they do not, then the party who served them can proceed to obtain the relief they are seeking without that person’s participation, by default. So, what happens when the Sheriff tries to serve someone and they are not successful?

First and foremost, chances are that the summons that was issued is no longer good if service by the Sheriff has failed. The summons expires about a month after it is issued, and then an alias summons (a new summons) has to be issued by the Court. The party can then use the sheriff for another attempt at service, or, they can ask the court to appoint a special process server, such as a private investigator or a detective, to effectuate service. These individuals tend to do a more thorough job of trying to serve someone. For example, if the person lives in a locked apartment building where you need permission to get up to the unit, a special process server will, most of the time, sit outside the residence and wait to try and serve the person, or try to gain access to the building. A sheriff has volumes to serve and may not have the capacity to spend a great deal of time trying to serve someone in a difficult service situation. A special process server may also ask for photographs of the person they are trying to serve, other identifiers as well as multiple places where they could be and on certain days, as well as at what time. Usually the special process server can serve the person, but they have to be appointed by the court first prior to any service attempts.

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