The process starts when a complaint or petition of any kind is filed with the court. The court then issues a summons that has the name of the parties involved, the case number, and the court location. The summons and complaint or petition must be served on the parties involved in the lawsuit.
This is the process that begins a lawsuit and starts the time that a party has to respond to the complaint or petition. Every jurisdiction, including Florida, has rules about how that can and cannot be done. The rules regarding what a process server can do are complex.
Florida Law Requires Use of a Sheriff or Designated Special Process Server
In Florida, all service of process must be done by the Sheriff in the county in which the person to be served lives or can be found.
The Sheriff may appoint a list of approved designated special process servers. These people have met certain state requirements and may be recertified yearly.
It is important that a process server is a person who is disinterested in the lawsuit.
Methods of Service Under Florida Law
Florida law allows a process server to leave a copy of the complaint or petition, the summons, or other initial pleadings in a case, with the person who is to be served. This is known as personal service. A person may be personally served at their home, or at work, or at their business address, if they have one.
Most of the time, a person is personally served at home. Process servers are professional and are able to find times when the person to be served is at home. Process servers also keep a log of all attempts made, including location and time of day in case there is a problem with service of process upon that person.
What Happens if a Defendant Attempts to Avoid Being Served?
Sometimes, a defendant will try to evade service of process. The purpose of service of process is to notify the defendant of the lawsuit. A defendant may not legally evade the process. Doing so will not stop the lawsuit from progressing. In that case, the plaintiff’s process server may leave the documents in a place where the defendant is likely to obtain them easily.
If a person is not at home, or evades service, the process server may leave a copy of the papers at the person’s home with someone else living there who is at least 15 years old. The age requirement is in place to ensure that the person accepting the papers on behalf of the person to be served will ensure that the papers get to the person who is to be served. A process server must explain what the documents are when leaving them with a person other than the defendant.
A process server may not leave the papers on the front porch or slip them into a mail slot at the residence. A process server may not serve a defendant with papers on a Sunday. Doing so will invalidate the service of process.
Service of Process at a Person’s Work
Florida law allows a person to be served at work. The process server must let the employer know about the service of process beforehand. Once contacted, the employer can designate a private area for the employee to be served. This prevents the person being served from suffering unnecessary embarrassment. If a process server fails to notify the employer beforehand, the process server could be liable for a fine of $1,000.
Other Substituted Service
Substituted service is allowed in some circumstances. Substituted service is leaving the papers to be served with a person who is a substitute for the person who to be served. If the person who is to be served owns his or her own business, those papers may be left at the business with a person in charge. Before doing so however, the process server must attempt to serve that person at least twice at that place of business. The service of process must take place during normal business hours.
Substitute service is also allowed in some car accident cases. It may be used if a defendant hides their location or has moved out of state. In that case, a plaintiff may serve the secretary of state if the accident took place in Florida.
Substitute service may also be allowed when a defendant’s address is known, such as with a post office box or virtual office, but the defendant can’t be found. In that case, a court may allow service of process upon the person in charge of the post office box, or virtual office. The rules and procedures regarding substitute service are strictly construed by courts and must be strictly adhered to.
What Happens If the Defendant Cannot be Found?
Service by publication is allowed in cases where the defendant cannot be located. A plaintiff seeking to serve a defendant in this manner must make good faith attempts to locate and serve the defendant before a court will allow a process server to serve a defendant in this manner.
Service by process is serving a defendant by publishing a notice in a publication such as a newspaper in a location where the defendant is likely to see it. It could be the newspaper located in the town where the defendant lives. Only certain types of defendants may be served this way. Again, the rules for service of process by publication are strictly construed by courts. Bring any questions you may have regarding personal service to an attorney whom you trust.