Service of Process is the procedure that is used to give legal notice to a person that they have been named in a lawsuit and a court is exercising its jurisdiction over that person. It is designed to enable the person being served to respond to the proceeding before the court. Typically, notice is furnished by delivering a set of court documents, called ‘process,’ to the person to be served.
Each of the states has its own rules concerning service of process. In most jurisdictions, a summons and related documents must be served upon the defendant personally or upon a person of suitable age and discretion at the person’s residence, place of business, or place of employment. In some areas, service of process can be done through the mail.
Proper service of process initially establishes personal jurisdiction of the court over the person that was served. If the defendant ignores further notice or fails to participate in the proceedings at all, the court can find the defendant in default and award relief to the claimant, petitioner, or plaintiff. Service of process is not the same as service of subsequent documents between the parties to litigation.
Rules for service of process in federal court are subject to Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 4 allows for process to be served in federal court in different ways for different types of defendants. Without proper service of process in any court, the lawsuit will not stand.