Service of Process

Service of process is a notification requirement each time that a lawsuit is filed. 

To bring a lawsuit the plaintiff has to first obtain a summons from the court clerk. The summons contains important information including:

  • The names of the plaintiff and defendant
  • The plaintiff’s attorney
  • The court
  • When the defendant has to reply
  • What happens if the defendant does not reply in time

The summons is also known as “process." It has to be delivered to the defendant. This delivery is called “service”. Thus, service of process is the procedure through which a person filing a lawsuit provides the party being sued with notice of the lawsuit.

The complaint, which describes the lawsuit, is generally served along with the summons.

Why is Proper Service of Process Required?

Service of process is governed by a detailed set of statutes and rules. It serves three main purposes:

  • It provides a defendant with notice of the action filed against it.
  • It gives the defendant the opportunity to respond and defend itself.
  • It establishes the court’s power over the defendant.

“Proper” service of process—that is, service of process that complies with the applicable rules and statutes—is required by the U.S. Constitution. To be more precise, it is required by the Due Process clauses of the 5th and 14th Amendments.These amendments say that any deprivation of life, liberty, or property must be preceded by notice and an opportunity to be heard. Without proper service of process a court lacks the power to make a defendant pay money to the plaintiff or to order the defendant to take, or not take, any actions.