Michigan Service of Process Rules

Ryan Duffy
Author : Ryan Duffy
3 min read

Michigan service of process rules are found in Michigan’s Court Rules, Chapter 2, subchapter 2.100. Individual counties and courts have their own procedures which may vary slightly from the basic court rules. Family court, probate, and small claims cases have slightly different rules of service. People initiating lawsuits should check with an attorney or a legal self-help clinic before filing any legal documents.

Michigan attorneys, paralegals, and other legal professionals should stay abreast of any changes to Michigan’s court rules and legislative changes. Courts are less lenient towards professionals who err than attorneys who should know better.

Where to Find Michigan Service of Process Rules

The Michigan Court Rules website is the best place to locate the rules of service of process. The self-help site Michigan Legal Help (michiganlegalhelp.org) also has the rules, along with a simplified discussion of what service of process means.

Local courthouses have service of process rules as well as court rules, and judicial preferences for each courtroom. The best practice is for anyone serving process to check the courthouse where their case will be heard before submitting any documents or having them served.

Methods of Service

The person initiating the legal action is the plaintiff. That person must deliver, or “serve” the summons and complaint to all named defendants in the lawsuit or other legal action. In Michigan, there are several types of legal service.

Proof of service means that the defendant received the summons and complaint (or sometimes the petition), and proves to the court that the defendant received them. In Michigan, if a summons is not served on a defendant within 91 days, the case is dismissed against the defendant, unless the plaintiff shows they attempted service and were unable to do so, or unless they ask for additional time. The dismissal is “without prejudice,” meaning the plaintiff can file again.

Some legal proceedings, such as probate, family, and small claims courts, have different requirements for service and notice. Those will be discussed briefly after civil service of process.

Personal Service

Personal service means someone hands the summons and complaint to the defendant. The “server” can be anyone who is:

  • 18 years of age or older,

  • Not a party to the case.

You cannot have the documents served until after the summons and complaint are filed with the court. The court clerk must assign a case number and sign the summons before service.

Once the case is filed, other documents can be e-filed. Michigan courts prefer all documents after the summons be e-filed, unless the defendant or their attorney does not have access to e-filing. Then the documents can be sent by regular mail or handed to the defendant or their attorney.

Some court forms may not have “email/e-filed” information or checkboxes despite the method being allowed or required. If you served the documents that way, you can cross out that part of the form and write in the method used. Do not white-out any part of the court document.

Service by Mail

Service by mail is permitted except in cases where documents must be physically handed to the defendant. You should check with an attorney or legal self-help before serving by mail. The summons and complaint must be sent by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, and restricted delivery to addressee only.

Service is not complete until the receipt is returned with the defendant’s signature. The proof of service must include the signed return receipt. Service by mail is less reliable than personal service, since there is no proof the defendant received the documents unless or until the receipt is returned.

Substituted Service

Substituted service can be carried out on the following individuals in the following manner:

  • Nonresident individuals, by serving an agent or representative in Michigan and sending a copy of the summons and complaint to the defendant’s last known address by registered mail;

  • On a minor, by service on their guardian or parent;

  • On a person under guardianship, by service on the guardian or conservator;

  • On an individual doing business under another name, by serving their business and by sending the summons and complaint registered mail to their usual or last known address.

Partnerships, LLCs, and corporations are served in the same manner as substituted service. If a plaintiff has made reasonable efforts to locate a defendant, and service cannot be completed, the plaintiff may petition the court for alternative methods of service. The court at its discretion may order other service reasonably calculated to give the defendant notice (Rule 2.105(J)(1), but the plaintiff may not attempt service until the court orders it.

Other Types of Cases

Small Claims Cases. For small claims, the court clerk gives notice to the defendant. Once the plaintiff files the complaint, the clerk sends a copy to all named defendants with a notice of the hearing date. After that, the defendant and plaintiff can arrange mediation or appear in court on the date specified.

Family law cases. Because of the potential for domestic violence, parental abduction, and other unfortunate outcomes in family law cases, the rules for providing notice and service of process are a bit different in divorce, protective order, and custody cases. Most documents can be served by mail or e-filing. For documents that must be served on the person, such as summons and complaints and protective orders, Michigan courts strongly recommend professional process servers.

Eviction Cases. Michigan laws surrounding evictions are detailed and complex. Although the rules regarding service of process are essentially the same, there are different time limits for how long a tenant must be given notice once the summons has been signed. Briefly:

  • If a tenant fails to pay rent, they must receive a 7-day notice to pay or quit.

  • If a tenant violates the lease agreement in any other way, they must have 30-day notice to vacate.

  • Illegal activity or health or safety violations: 7-day notice to vacate.

  • Non-renewal of lease: 30-day notice to vacate.

The eviction process cannot begin until after the expiration of the above notices. Then the landlord can file a complaint and request a Notice to Vacate from the court. The tenant must receive the notice from the court not less than three days before the hearing, and neither the landlord nor their lawyer may serve the notice.

The best advice is to let an attorney and process server handle eviction cases in Michigan.

Proof of Service or Proof of Mailing

The proof of service or proof of mailing (sometimes called a “certificate of mailing”) lets the court know you or someone else actually handed the summons to the defendant. If a process server did the delivery, it shows that the process server completed the delivery. Without the proof of service, the defendant did not receive the document as far as the court is concerned.

The Michigan court websites include the Proof of Service form as a separate downloadable document. Whoever completes service must sign and date this form under penalty of perjury and return it to the plaintiff. Then it is filed with the court. If necessary, the server can be called as a witness to confirm service of the document.

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Ryan Duffy
Ryan Duffy

Associate Attorney

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