How Service of Process Works with Military Members

Military members are dedicated to their mission of protecting and defending our country. In the course of their job, they live under circumstances that most people would find challenging – long hours at work, difficult training assignments and deployments away from home, and living on isolated military installations are just a few examples. 

The military lifestyle also makes this a difficult group to serve papers on. Whether a military service member is being sued, going through a divorce, being subpoenaed for a court case, process servers may face unique challenges in effecting service. 

Finding a service member

Knowing the rules of jurisdiction and residency

Process servers know better than almost anyone how variable laws can be from state to state. Here’s another factor to consider: where does personal jurisdiction, or legal means to exert power, over the service member stem from? 

For anyone – service members included – personal jurisdiction comes from the state of your domicile. For the average civilian, that’s your fixed address. However, because of the highly mobile military lifestyle, a service member’s domicile is where they were recruited from

For example, if a soldier was born and raised in Alabama and was recruited into service there, but later moved to New York on permanent change of station orders, federal law recognizes their domicile as Alabama regardless of how long they lived in New York or whether they owned property there. 

Why is this important? Domicile is an important concept because it establishes which courts have authority over an individual. The service member from Alabama but living in New York can be sued in Alabama because of their domicile. This is not to say that a court can’t establish personal jurisdiction over a defendant even if it doesn’t have general jurisdiction, but the correct rules and laws need to be followed. 

On- or off-post housing

Where a service member makes their residence also has a significant impact on how process service is managed. While many soldiers choose to live off post, approximately 30 percent live on a military installation

Military installations pose access challenges for civilians. Unless you are a family member, veteran, or work on the installation, there are strict policies and procedures for entering. 

To access a post, you’ll often need to work with on-site military police and the Judge Advocate General (JAG). JAG reviews your request and decides whether you’ll be allowed onto the installation. This procedure can take up to two weeks to complete. If the service member is stationed internationally, you may also need to fulfill additional criteria to stay in compliance with the host nation.

Military installation and the rules of jurisdiction

Process servers need to be aware of additional jurisdictional questions for service members living on post. Namely, is that installation under concurrent (federal and state) or purely federal jurisdiction? 

Installations under concurrent jurisdiction are not required by law to allow service of process in a lawsuit unless the lawsuit is from the same state as the installation. This rule, while based in Army Regulation 27-40, can make it easier for a service member to evade service. Even if the installation allows the process server to access the installation, base authorities will give the service member the chance to meet with the process server at an agreed-upon place and time – but they aren’t required to follow through. 

If the jurisdiction is concurrent, and the state of the installation and the state of the court that seeks process are one and the same, then  the base authorities must permit service of process, subject to “reasonable restrictions.”  If the state of the installation and state of the court seeking process are different, the base command can not be compelled to allow process in a state civil suit.  Where cooperation is required, the base authorities will first give the service member an opportunity to meet the process server at an arranged place and time.  The service member is not required to adhere to such arrangements.

Not on post? Not a problem. 

If a service member doesn’t live on a military installation, process servers can proceed with serving papers as they would if the defendant was a civilian. The same rules for service that would apply for general service can be followed. 

Training and deployment

Military service members are notoriously never at home. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are AWOL – rather, you can chalk it up to the demanding schedule they adhere to. 

Active duty service members regularly participate in field training exercises away from their duty station. These exercises are meant to simulate deployment experiences. It doesn’t actually mean that they are deployed, but the exercises can be lengthy. If service is necessary during a service member’s training, you would need to work within the requirements of the installation they’re at. 

If the service member is deployed, however, the situation is more challenging. The process server will need to comply with the following regulations:

An additional complication for serving a deployed service member is the need for operational security. Even a service member’s family may not know precisely where they are at or what they are doing. Combined with the Servicemember Civil Relief Act, it’s likely that court action would be delayed until they had returned from deployment. 

Service of process to a service member may seem like an uphill battle, but it doesn’t have to be. Experienced process servers know how to navigate the requirements of military protocol to make sure documents are delivered. To learn more about our procedures, contact DGR Legal today


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