When someone sues you, they usually file the suit in court and then have to get the suit to you in some way. Getting the suit to you officially is called “service of process.” “Process” in this situation is the summons – it’s the document that confers jurisdiction on the court. And “service” is getting you the summons.
A court does not have jurisdiction over you – does not have power to impose a judgment upon you until you’ve been served correctly. So… what is “correct” service of process?
The “gold standard,” you might say, for service is for someone to come up to you and say, “Are you John Doe? Here!” and place the complaint in your hand.
It does actually happen more or less that way most of the time. You’ll get the knock at the door, and when you open it, there’s the process server. When they give you the complaint, you have been served. In fact, when they offer you the complaint you’ve been served, and it doesn’t matter whether you take it or not.
Don’t bother trying to “refuse service.” There are no magic words that counter the spell of being served. It’s just a legal fact that means the court will take power over you. And make no mistake, it WILL take power over you.
What if someone else answers the door and they hand that person the complaint? You’ll need to check your own state’s rules to see if the person offered the complaint was able to “accept service.” As a general rule, related adults living in the place are, but children and unrelated people, or non-residents,
are not. But check your state’s rules on service, and this is important.
What if they call out to you on the street and start running towards you, and you run away? I’d be inclined to say you weren’t served, but… This is going to be tricky because the process server will almost certainly swear they did serve you, and if you don’t prove they didn’t, the court will take their word. So you’ll probably need to dispute it in court. I suggest you get a lawyer for this one.
It matters how you bring your challenge to service (called a “Motion to Quash Service”), it may matter
whether you go to court for it, and the law is unclear enough to justify hiring an attorney.
On the bright side, though, you can just hire any lawyer, not necessarily a debt lawyer, to dispute service. It’s a narrow question and not an open-ended representation, so you can probably do it
for much less money than hiring a lawyer to represent you in the underlying case. You’ll have to be very clear about what you want with the lawyer to do to keep it narrowly focused.
I want to point out that in discussing service of process here I have been speaking only about “personal
jurisdiction.” I am NOT talking about jurisdiction over things, as in apartment evictions or foreclosures. In those situations, the rules can be very different. So don’t use anything in this video to apply to those
Remember, if you want to challenge service of the suit on you, you can’t just answer. In fact you may not be able to answer at all without waiving, or letting go, your challenge. That’s because answering the case suggests you’ll let the court handle the dispute. If you want to quash service, it’s the first order of business. Don’t worry. If your motion to quash fails and the court takes jurisdiction, you’ll be given time to respond to the law suit. You won’t default.