California Service of Process Rules

Ryan Duffy
Author : Ryan Duffy
8 min read

Service of Process rules in California are similar to many other states. However, there are small peculiarities within California’s service rules that legal professionals and paralegals need to know about and understand. If the rules are not followed exactly, the least harm is that it could cost the client more time and money to re-do service of process to get the lawsuit moving forward. The worst harm that could happen by not following the rules is that the case could ultimately be dismissed out right.

Service of process is the procedure of delivering a copy of any document filed with the court to the defendant. The documents could be the notice and complaint of a new lawsuit against the defendant or it could be other papers that the rules require to be served or that the court requires to be served upon the defendant, such as a subpoena or other official court document. This is done so that the defendant can be aware of the lawsuit or subpoena and have an opportunity to respond. The person who delivers the court papers is called the process server.

The process server must carefully fill out and sign a Proof of Service form, which details how the service was done, on whom, where, and when. The Proof of Service form must then be filed with the court clerk. A copy of the Proof of Service is also provided to the plaintiff. The Proof of Service form is an important document, as it is proof that the defendant was served with the court papers. This is necessary for the judge to make a permanent order or judgment in the case.

Ways to Serve Process in California

There are three ways to serve legal papers in California:

  • Service by the Sheriff: This is the most common way to serve a new lawsuit. The Sheriff will serve the notice and complaint on the defendant at their home or workplace. You must provide the Sheriff with two copies of the court papers, a completed Sheriff's Instruction Form, and a check or fee waiver. The Sheriff must be given at least 40 days to serve the legal papers if the defendant lives in the same county as the court, and at least 30 days if the defendant lives in a different county.

  • Service by a Registered Process Server: A registered process server is a professional who is trained to serve court papers. They can serve the claim on the defendant at their home, workplace, or any other location where they can find them. You must hire a registered process server who is authorized to serve papers in the county where the defendant lives.

  • Service by a Friend or Family Member: You can also have a friend or family member over the age of 18 serve the claim on the defendant. The person serving the claim must be someone who is not a party to the lawsuit. They must deliver the court papers to the defendant personally, or leave them with someone who is over the age of 18 and lives at the defendant's home.

It is important to note that service on a corporation can also be done on their agent. If the city is being sued, the city clerk or agent authorized to accept service must be served. A county clerk fulfills the same responsibility in case the county is being served. However, if the State of California is sued, service can be rendered to the Attorney General's office.

What is Personal Service in California?

Personal service of legal papers under California’s service of process rules is when the papers are personal handed to the defendant. Personal service can be accomplished wherever the defendant is found, either at their home, work, or anywhere. Personal service is accomplished the moment the papers are placed in the defendant’s hands and it doesn’t matter what the defendant does with the papers thereafter. Proper service has been completed.

Once service of process is complete, the process server has to fill out a form and submit it to the court. Usually, this is done through the plaintiff’s attorney’s office, the ones who filed the lawsuit to begin with. Personal service is the most preferred method because if there is an issue and the defendant objects to the service, the judge can directly question the process server under oath as to how service of process was accomplished and the facts surrounding the incident.

Serving Legal Process by Mail in California

Service by mail is a method of serving court papers by mailing them to the defendant. The process server must mail the court papers to the defendant's home address, or to their business address if they are a business. If the defendant is a business, the court papers must be mailed to the owner at the main office, or to the agent for service. If the defendant is a person, the court papers can be mailed to their home address or mailing address.

The process server must then fill out a proof of service form, which details to whom the papers were mailed and their address. The proof of service form must be filed with the court clerk within five days of mailing the court papers.

Substitute Service of Process in California

Substituted service in California is a method of serving court papers when personal service has been unsuccessful. The process server must make several attempts to serve the defendant personally, at different times of day and on different days of the week. If the defendant cannot be found, the process server can leave the court papers with someone who is at least 18 years old and lives at the defendant's home or place of work. The process server must inform the person that the papers are legal documents for the defendant, and they must write down the person's name and address.

The process server must also file a declaration of due diligence, which is a document that details the attempts that were made to serve the defendant personally. The declaration must be signed under penalty of perjury. Also, as in other forms of service, the process server must file with the court a proof of service form. In most cases, service of process is complete once 10 days have passed from the date of mailing.

Rely on the Professionals

The easiest and safest way to get proper service of process is to rely on professional process servers. Using a professional service company will ensure that the legal papers you need served on the defendant are served correctly and on time.

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Ryan Duffy
Ryan Duffy

Associate Attorney

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