Welcome to the Lafayette Process Servers LLC podcast. I’m your host Scott Frank, and in today’s episode, we are going to talk about what happens when a defendant chooses to avoid a process server, why one shouldn’t do so, and the consequences that arise from doing so.
As we know now, in the instance that an individual or a company plans to take any form of legal action against someone, it is required that they provide a service of process to notify the defendant that a suit has been filed.
But not all defendants are receptive to receiving their court orders. When faced with legal action, some people will go out of their way and take tremendous efforts to avoid being served with legal documents thinking that they will avoid the consequences of the action against them. This is simply not true. While it’s not technically illegal to dodge process servers who are trying to hand you court papers, but the truth is, avoiding them will just make the situation worse for you in the long run. It’s important to understand that avoiding being served with legal documents does not make the case against you disappear, and it could have negative consequences.
To understand all that goes into the topic, let us first start off by understanding what it means to be served.
To state the law, the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution also mandates “due process” when interest is asserted against a person’s “life, liberty or property.” State Constitutions have adopted this right and passed “service of process” laws that detail the methods that must be used to deliver legal documents to defendants.
So, being served with process means that the due process and statutory requirements for giving notice to a defendant about a legal action have been met. Each state and type of action can have slightly different requirements, but it’s common to require personal service to be attempted first.
Coming to the main focus of today’s episode, what exactly does avoiding being served actually mean?
Now, most of us are aware of process servers. We see them in the movies or on television pretending to be delivering pizza, handing over papers, and announcing, “You’ve been served.” It is not surprising that people that know they’re in trouble with the law, on the receiving end of a divorce, or on the brink of foreclosure go to great lengths to avoid process servers. They may never answer the door, or they answer the door but insist they are somebody else. Others may hide in the closet until the process server leaves or hide out at a family member’s home. There have also been instances where people move out of their towns, just to avoid being served.
These measures may be successful in preventing personal service, but they will not be helpful at all in preventing legal actions from going forward against them. It’s not illegal to avoid being served with a process, but it is rarely advantageous. In some cases, it can result in court orders and decisions being made without your knowledge, and it always results in longer and more expensive litigations. The additional fees and expenses caused by avoiding service, such as multiple service charges for process server attempts, can be charged to the person that avoids being served.
Upon learning all this, the question arises. Why do people avoid getting served? What drives some of these people to such extreme lengths in order to avoid coming in contact with a process server?
Some of the defendants tracked by process servers just don’t want to accept that they have been named as a party in a legal proceeding. It could be because they are being served divorce papers and they don’t want to get divorced. They could wind up in collections. There are a number of reasons that someone would need to appear in a court case and, in many cases, it is not pleasant news.
Some individuals being served might even think that process servers have an opinion of guilt or innocence of the person they are serving, which could also lead to them attempting to avoid accepting the papers. This couldn’t be further from the truth as process servers are merely serving as a messenger of legal documents. Truthfully, the role of a messenger is an important role in our legal system as it upholds the right to due process. Regardless of why someone might evade service or avoid a process server, it is necessary that process servers do their best to get the job done and within the parameters of state law.
Actions have consequences. Avoiding getting served has its fair share of consequences too.
One may get some satisfaction from dodging a process server. Maybe it turned into a game of cat and mouse to avoid getting served court papers. But in the game of real-life — specifically the game of legal processes — courts aren’t playing around, and the consequences will catch up to you sooner rather than later. So, what are some common consequences that one could potentially face if they avoided being served court papers?
Consequence 1: The server may try other tactics
Maybe you’ve managed to sneak in and out of your house, and you haven’t yet had court papers stuck in your face. Maybe you’ve left the country (not recommended). Regardless of how you’ve delayed the inevitable, you’re far from out of the woods.
But what one fails to recognize is that a process server has various ways to find you.
Evading the papers a process server is trying to deliver to you isn’t as easy as you might think. Whether you’re trying to avoid a summons to small claims court, divorce papers, or some other, more daunting claim, professionals have a way of getting the job done.
Just as you’re determined to avoid being served, these professionals are both trained and tenacious about making certain it happens. Their work is a blend of investigation and persistence.
He or she has multiple ways of ensuring you receive the papers, including direct and indirect means. One of the most common practices is to sit and wait at your home or place of business until you arrive or leave. This is called a stakeout.
Since most people cannot afford to just disappear and leave their responsibilities behind, they inevitably show up at these locations. When they do, a process server will approach, explain the situation, and provide the necessary documentation.
But what if you refuse to accept the papers?
The process depends on the state’s unique laws, but, in general, your refusal does little to deter the process. If a process server has identified you as the recipient of the legal documents, they can leave them with you whether you physically accept them or not.
If one manages to evade a process server, their luck won’t hold out. Legally, depending on the documents, they can be sub-served on their behalf to a capable individual over the age of 18 who:
- Lives in their home
- Works at their place of business
- Is in charge of their usual place of mailing
These methods are deployed to make sure that even if they aren’t present, they still get served.
Upon failure to follow through on a personal face-to-face serve, various other methods also exist such as:
- Service by Certified Mail
Let’s assume that the process server has tried to get someone at home or work but hasn’t had any luck. Next, the person serving can try sending the documents through the mail.
Service of process by certified mail is acceptable and legal in some states so long as they can provide proof that the papers were sent, and that there wasn’t a problem with the address.
- Service by Posting on Your Door
After several attempts, a motion can be filed with the court, and the judge will authorize the process server to post on the avoidant defendant’s front door. Sometimes, the process servers even take pictures of the posting on the front door and submit that to the court with their affidavit of service.
- Service through social media
The newest and perhaps least widely accepted option is to use social media as a way to process serve. This involves using a social media network such as Facebook or Twitter to send the papers to the recipient. Again, proof of the services will be needed.
- Service by Notice
Finally, if all other methods of reaching a person have failed, the court can allow the person suing to serve them by a notice placed in a local newspaper.
As long as the paper is circulated in the area where they live and meets certain other criteria, the court can consider them served with just an advertisement.
Although one may think that avoiding a process server is a good way to keep a lawsuit from happening, no matter how hard they try, they can’t avoid the suit from proceeding. And if they don’t show up to court, they could lose more than they would have if they had just accepted service and fought the case.
Consequence 2: The plaintiff will ask the court for a default judgment
If one has avoided being served court papers and doesn’t file an answer by the deadline, it’s bad news. The person suing you will likely file a motion with the court asking it to enter a “default judgment” against you.
If you’re the party who avoided getting served court papers and didn’t show up to the court date, what are the odds the judge will rule in your favor? Not so great. If that happens, watch out! Then, the person suing you may take other aggressive legal measures.
Consequence 3: You Could Face Legal Consequences
Depending on what one does to avoid the process server, there could be legal consequences for their actions. Some people have been known to go to extremes to hide their identity or to escape detection – simply to delay a legal proceeding (because avoiding being served certainly won’t stop the case). If one uses any illegal means to do so – such as presenting false identification, becoming physically violent with the server, and so on – they could face criminal consequences. Depending on the circumstances, they may not face criminal consequences, but their actions could be viewed negatively by the court overseeing the case. That could negatively affect the outcome of their trial. For example, if you were reckless in your actions, that could be viewed negatively in a child custody hearing, which would assess your judgment and fitness. Evading a process server is never going to help you avoid whatever legal matter you are trying to avoid. At best, it will only delay that process. In the meantime, you may end up causing more trouble for yourself, either by making your business more public or even by getting yourself into legal hot water.
No matter what the case is, it’s always better for one to cooperate and accept the process of service. They can always fight the matter in court. Fighting the process server won’t get anyone anywhere.
So, seeing as to how it is not ethical or recommended to avoid the process server, what should one do after they have been served?
Well, once they have been served, they can no longer avoid the court process. So regardless of whether the lawsuit filed is incorrect, there exists a need to respond to it. Else, the defendant risks getting a default judgment, which usually never yields good results.
So, the main course of action in such a situation would be to hire an attorney and file an answer back. Filing an answer is the defendant’s chance to stand up for themselves, as it not only avoids the possibility of getting a default judgment but may also end up showing that the person/company suing you do not possess enough evidence to file that suit against you. All that can be done is to trust the court of law to ultimately serve justice, once and for all.
If you are ever in need of experienced process servers, then Lafayette is your answer! Contact us at 1-866-237-2853 or send us an email inquiry at [email protected]
And that wraps up our episode for today. Thank you for listening and we’ll see you next time!
The foregoing Podcast has simply been presented for informational purposes only. He or those at Lafayette Process Servers LLC, are not attorneys. If you seek further information about this topic, contact an attorney in your local area.