Monday, October 19, 2020
Occasionally, process servers encounter a situation in which they are unable to serve an individual. While non-serves can happen, most clients would prefer that didn’t happen. The good news is that in cases in which it is imperative to get the defendant served by any means possible, alternative service can sometimes be requested and approved. Keep reading to learn more about alternative service, problems that may happen, and how they can be fixed or avoided.
Alternate service, which is not to be confused with substitute service, occurs when an individual is served in an alternative manner that is different from the traditional means of personal service. To be clear, substitute service occurs when someone other than the named defendant accepts service on behalf of that individual. In alternative service, the named individual is served, just not in the traditional manner.
It is important to remember that service of process exists to afford individuals their due process rights. If someone is being sued or must appear in court, they have a right to receive notification of that. Alternative service is only used when all attempts have been exhausted to serve the individual.
Alternative service can be handled in a variety of different ways. Here are some of the different methods in which a defendant can receive alternative service:
As always, each state has its own acceptable means of alternative service, so it is best to check your state’s statutes to understand what is deemed acceptable alternative service and what is not. Keep in mind that in most states, all means of alternative service must be requested and require court approval.
Alternative service is only granted as a last resort after a multitude of attempts to personally serve an individual have been tried to no avail. There is a specific procedure that is required to request and have alternative service approved. Typically, this process includes the following:
Keep in mind that certain states or judges may exclude some of these steps or perhaps even require more. As always, check your state’s statutes regarding alternative service to confirm the process.
Unfortunately, when a process server is not physically serving an individual, there are a number of problems that could arise. The first problem is that of mistaken identity. This can be detrimental to the case and could result in a motion to quash, which would lead to an unhappy client. Other problems could include the individual never receiving the notice (or claims of such), and thus, service of process is not considered effectuated. Finally, this may lead to substitute service, which is usually not preferred by clients or by the courts.
Ultimately, there is not really a “fix” to these problems once they have occurred. However, there are a number of things that process servers can do to prevent these situations from occurring. The most important part of alternative service is documenting the diligence inquiries. Document, document, document! There is no such thing as over-documentation when it comes to providing proof that service was attempted multiple times and in multiple ways. Written accounts that include the date, time, location, and other pertinent details are crucial to proving that service was genuinely attempted — and that cannot be disputed with enough evidence. Photo or video evidence, such as with the use of a body camera, is always encouraged. With ServeManager’s Digital Service features, these issues are addressed with notifications that keep process servers updated on when the documents are viewed, when physical service is waived, and when service documents are downloaded from within ServeManager.
While alternative service is not preferred, it can be done successfully when the server adheres to the state’s requirements and goes above and beyond to get the serve done.