Advances in technology allow people to communicate with one another instantly and from anywhere in the world, making it easy to assume that electronic or digital communication is always the best way to contact an individual—especially in regards to legal matters. And in some states, the courts are allowing plaintiffs to serve papers via email or even through social media accounts.
However, when it comes to service of process, in-person delivery is still considered best practice. Personal service provides the closest semblance to a guarantee that the intended individual received the required documents, and is the best way for a plaintiff to avoid a claim of invalid no-service from the defendant. Additionally, personal service protects the due process rights for each party, and helps ensure that all subsequent court rulings are upheld in the future or in the case of an appeal.
While in-person service of process can usually be performed without excessive difficulty, depending on the accuracy of the address and how evasive the subject is, there are the occasional challenges. In situations where the papers can not be served directly to the individual, some states allow for the papers to be left with an adult member of the household such as a cohabitant, parent, or guardian. This often depends on the type of matter involved.
Papers can also be delivered to a person’s workplace so long as the papers are given directly to a person in charge that is over age 18. Though not considered as effective as directly serving the person named in the legal proceedings, this method is still preferable to alternate service, where there is often no guarantee of receipt of the legal documents.
Importance of personal service and due process rights
Why is personal service so vital to court proceedings? Federal law requires individuals to be notified of any legal proceedings involving them as part of their right to due process. Due process refers to a citizen’s right to fair treatment under the law, and states that an individual cannot be tried, imprisoned, or punished without first being provided with clear information regarding the case against them.
In order to maintain a person’s right to due process, no court proceedings or litigation can begin until all parties have been notified about the proceedings via written documentation, also known as service of process. Only after all parties are notified do the courts have the jurisdiction needed to make decisions and rulings for the case. This is why personal service of process remains the gold standard serving both individuals and corporations—it is still the most reliable way to prove that all parties involved maintain their right to due process and are aware of their involvement in a case.
In cases where due process is not upheld in regards to service of process, rulings may be overturned, appeals granted, and in extreme situations, some cases may even be declared a mistrial. This is not only personally difficult for the parties involved, but costly and time-consuming for the legal representation. Perfectly legal and sound rulings can be completely undermined if opposing counsel can successfully argue that their client was not properly served electronically, despite evidence that the email or social media account was regularly accessed at the time of service
Continued importance of personal service of process
Providing personal service and the accompanying written proof of affidavit may require additional effort upfront, but usually results in a timely and equitable resolution of the court proceedings. Furthermore, since the legality of electronic service methods still varies from state to state, and even county by county, personal service of process remains the only method of service universally recognized in the U.S.
While there has been a considerable increase in the number of cases of electronic service of process, both via email and social media, it’s critical to remember that this is only as a method of alternate service. These methods are simply replacing previously used ones such as service by publication or posting given their likelihood of the subject receiving notice. The court has continued to want to see diligent efforts made at attempting to complete personal service prior to approving motions for alternate service of any type.
You and your clients need to know that the individuals involved in your case are aware of the proceedings and are retaining their right to due process. Hiring an experienced process server allows you to initiate court proceedings with confidence. Contact us today to learn more about our approach to both in-person and alternate service methods.