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Service of Process — Notice of a Lawsuit

A lawsuit begins when a plaintiff (the party suing) files a complaint with the clerk of the court. The defendant (the person or company being sued) is given notice that a lawsuit has been filed and is “summoned” to appear before the court. Service of process means that the defendant is given notice of the lawsuit and served with or provided with a copy of the complaint that was filed. The plaintiff is responsible for service of a summons and the complaint on the defendant within the time allowed under the court’s rules. Constitutional due process requires that the defendant be given adequate notice of any lawsuit.

Ways Process Can Be Served On A Defendant

  • Personal ServiceA copy of the summons (notice) and the complaint can be personally given to the defendant. If the defendant is a company, personal service can be made by serving the agent authorized by appointment or by law (usually the state’s secretary of state) to receive service of process.

  • Residence ServiceResidence service is made by leaving a copy of the summons and the complaint at the defendant’s usual place of residence with a person of suitable age and discretion (not a young child) who resides there.

  • Service by Certified MailIn certain situations, service of process can be made by sending a certified letter, with a return receipt request, to the defendant. The person delivering the certified letter signs the receipt and indicates the person to whom the certified letter was delivered, the date of delivery, and the address where the certified letter was delivered.

  • Service by PublicationFor certain types of cases and if the residence of a defendant is unknown and cannot be located with reasonable effort, service can be made by publishing a notice of the lawsuit in a newspaper of general circulation in the county in which the complaint was filed.

  • Service by Regular MailIn certain situations, if the defendant cannot be located with reasonable effort, service can be made by mailing a first class letter to the defendant’s last known address.

  • Out of State Service and Service in a Foreign CountryCourt rules specify ways to serve process on a defendant who lives out of state or in a foreign country.

Waiver of Service of Process

A defendant can waive service of process or agree that formal service of process is not necessary. For example, an Ohio court rule provides that service of process can be waived in writing by a defendant who is at least 18 years of age and not under a disability.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.