Consenting to Service of Process
Filing a lawsuit with the court may be the first step in resolving a legal dispute, but your case does not get far until you successfully serve the other party in your lawsuit with “process.” Some parties will accept the service of process so that they can defend themselves against your allegations and claims. Other parties will refuse to accept service of process, thinking that by doing so they can avoid court and being found responsible.
Still other defendants will have consented to service of process ahead of time. Parties who have consented to service have already agreed ahead of time and can make the process server’s job simpler. Defendants who consent to service also help expedite legal proceedings, since a court cannot reach the merits of a case until the defendant has been properly served.
Defining Service of Process
“Process” is the legal term that describes the initial set of papers that you receive once a lawsuit is filed against you. In most every case, process will include a copy of the complaint or petition and a notice from the court where the case was filed. Altogether, the process in your case may be just a handful of pages in the case of a simple dispute, or it can consist of dozens of pages.
No matter the length of the process in your case, each document will contain important information. The complaint or petition will tell you what compensation or other relief the other party is seeking from you as well as the factual and legal reasons why they believe they are entitled to receive them.
The notice that accompanies the complaint or petition will tell you how you can respond to the lawsuit if you wish to contest it. It is crucial that you follow the instructions and deadlines in this notice if you want to challenge either the legal relief being sought or the facts of the case itself. Failing to adhere to the instructions in the notice can lead to a default judgment being entered against you.
The “service” of process simply refers to the method by which you are given process. Process servers will usually attempt to deliver process to you personally, but they could also be served by other means. Depending on your state’s laws, this could include receiving process in the mail, having process left with an adult who lives at your residence, or being notified of the lawsuit in your local newspaper of record.
Refusal and Consent of Service
When a process server is trying to serve a party with notice of a lawsuit, that party can either refuse to accept service or can consent to receiving service of process.
Refusing Service of Process
A party can refuse to accept process by telling the process server of their refusal and declining to accept any papers. When the process server files the return of service with the court, they will notate on the return that the party refused service. Once the party has refused service, generally there are no additional attempts at service of process.
Some parties may refuse service of process, thinking that by so doing they can delay or defeat a lawsuit. However, in most every jurisdiction a party is still considered to have been served even if they refuse to accept papers from the process server. The court can proceed with the case and enter default judgment against the party if they do not participate any further in the proceedings.
Consenting to Service of Process
On the other hand, a party can consent to receiving service by informing the plaintiff or the process server when and how they will accept notice of the lawsuit. The process server then completes their task by delivering the paperwork to the party when and how they indicate.
Because consenting to service of process results in less expense to the plaintiff and allows the lawsuit to proceed more smoothly, most states encourage defendants to consent by granting them additional time to respond to the lawsuit.
In some cases, the defendant will have consented to service of process by a particular means for any and all lawsuits. For example, many states will require businesses to designate a power of attorney who can receive service of process for the business as a condition of being able to operate within the state. In this way, the business has consented to service of process for any and all lawsuits that might arise.
Similarly, certain licensed professionals must consent to service of process if they wish to obtain and maintain their license.
Process servers who are looking to serve businesses or certain licensed professionals should check with the local Secretary of State’s office or other licensing authority to see if the person they are trying to serve has consented to service under that state’s laws.
Deciding Whether to Consent to Service
Unless you are required to consent to service because of your state’s laws, most people can choose whether to consent to service when the process server comes looking for them. In making this decision, you should consider whether you wish to contest the lawsuit. If so, consenting to service allows you the opportunity to respond to the lawsuit and participate in future hearings. If a hearing is held but you are not properly notified of it after having consented to service, any action taken at that hearing can be invalidated.
Conversely, if you do not want to be bothered with the headache of responding to a suit and appearing in court, refusing service may make more sense. If you choose this, the court can proceed to enter judgment against you but you will not receive many, if any, notices of hearings that may be held in the case.
Consenting to Service of Process Has Risks and Rewards
When you get to decide whether to consent to service of process or not, it is best to carefully consider the pros and cons of consenting to service of process. If you do decide to consent to service, communicating with the process server about when and how they can serve you can make receiving notice of your lawsuits convenient for both you and the server.
If you are needing to serve legal papers for a lawsuit, engaging the services of an experienced and knowledgeable process server can ensure your jurisdiction’s laws are followed and that service is accomplished expeditiously as possible.