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What Happens if You Don't Answer the Door to a Process Server?

It is the right of every defendant or any other party involved in a lawsuit to be effectively brought to the book concerning crucial details of the case against them. A plaintiff does this by having a process server deliver the documents to the defendant on their behalf. Many people sometimes go to their extreme to avoid being physically served, hoping that they will somehow stall and cause the termination of the case. However, these tactics rarely work as alternative methods process servers can use to ensure you are still served. This article will cover more on the general rules involving service of process. Read on to learn the number of times a process server can come to your house before considering alternative options. 

Who is a Process Server, and What are their Qualifications?

"Service of process" is a legal requirement expressed in the fourteenth amendment of the US constitution. It defines all the viable legal methods that a defendant can receive legal documents related to cases against them before a case is heard and determined in a court of law. A process server is a person tasked with delivering the documents on behalf of the plaintiff. Various states have different requirements when it comes to process servers. The general rule is that they should be above 18 years and not be a party to the case in any way. 

In California, other than being 18 years and not a party to the case, a process server is required to serve the defendant within the stipulated time limits. In writing, they should also indicate who they served, when, where, and how to serve as evidence in a court. Apart from law enforcement officers or anyone appointed by a court to serve their processes, process servers in California who've served more than 10 legal documents in a year should be registered. A court clerk in their county of residence is responsible for taking their registration, and they should ensure it remains maintained to remain relevant. 

While there are no educational requirements to be a process server in California, they are expected to understand all the laws about process serving. A process server will also be required to post a $2,000 deposit or bond. 

What does it Mean to be Served?

A defendant or any other relevant party is served with the process when they have been effectively notified of the legal action against them in line with the standard statutory requirements. Although every state has its requirements and steps to achieve this, the general and initial method is personal service. Personal service means handing over the relevant court papers about a case to the defendant. The process server must meet the stipulated requirements expected in their state before serving. For instance, they must first be fully satisfied that the person handing the papers is the target party. 

Also, they must serve the papers to a party residing in the state where they filed the lawsuit. However, there are some exceptions to this rule in many states regarding lawsuits involving out-of-state property, owners within the state and motor vehicle accidents. If personal service is ineffective, you can use other methods if the court deems it proper. 

What happens when I don't Answer the Door?

There are many ways a process server can serve a defendant via the personal service method. The first crucial thing is identifying where to find them quickly and at what times. Two of these most common places include their place of work and residence. So what happens if you don't answer the door when a process server knocks? Well, while you're not obligated by law to open the door for a potential process server, not opening will only work to complicate your case further. The first thing the process server is likely to do is to record the failed instance to include it later in their Affidavit of service, which will include the date, time, and place they tried to serve you and other details such as if they think you were deliberately refusing to be served. 

The process server will diligently serve you for a maximum of 3 unsuccessful times before seeking approval from a judge for other methods to be considered. In all three attempts, they will change the time and day to increase their chances of meeting you and prove that they tried their best to serve the papers. 

What can a Process Server Do or not Do?

A process server has a primary objective to identify and notify a defendant of a case filed against them in court through delivering them the relevant court papers. In their endeavor to do so, it is within their job's best interest to sometimes adopt some clever ways to achieve this goal before the time limits elapse. However, in their quest, there are practices they should not do. Below are some of them;

  • Cannot Enter Forcibly or Break into a House

The first place process servers consider during personal service is the last known residential address of the defendant. They will visit the home, knock on the door or gate, and wait to be let in. They will be considered to be within their rights and not trespassing, provided they don't try to access the home without the consent of a household member. 

  • Cannot Impersonate a Law Enforcement Officer 

It's wrong for a process server to impersonate a law enforcement officer or any other court official with the intent of compelling the person to open the door. 

  • Can Stakeout a Defendant 

Process servers cannot stalk or harass a person to serve them. However, they are within their rights to wait for them outside their known address, workplace, or business premise to serve them. They can also wait in front of the house of a known acquaintance or family member if they expect the defendant to visit regularly. 

  • Cannot Leave the Court Papers with a Minor 

A judge can approve the substituted service of process, which allows a process server to leave the court documents with someone in constant contact with the defendant. It can be an adult person within the defendant's workplace or place of residence. However, it's not allowed that they leave the papers with a minor (below 18 years).