What Is Service of Process?

service of process

So, you want to sue someone? Maybe the insurance company of the person who ran into your car thinks that the accident that resulted in $75,000 in medical bills before you even start any rehabilitation thinks they can get away with only paying you $5,000. Maybe your neighbor cut down a tree, and it smashed your bespoke bird feeder garden and is now refusing to pay for it.

You’ve done your research, you made the smart choice, and you hired the CEO Lawyer, but what are they doing now that the initial round of questions and investigations are over? They are letting the other person know that you are suing them.

In the legal world, this is called ‘Service of Process.’ In Georgia, it is covered under O.C.G.A. §9-11-4(2019). You’re probably familiar with this, at least somewhat from movies and T.V. where a person disguised as a delivery man pretends to be delivering a package to have someone admit their identity and then present them with legal documents. This happens less often than you might think.

The first thing you need to ask yourself is, ‘Who are you suing?’.

There are different requirements for different individuals or entities. We’ll hit the most common ones for now, and to keep it simple, we’ll assume you are only suing one person at a time. We’ll take it from the least complex service to the most complex service.

Suing an Individual Person

In this case, you are suing a person who you do not know has a lawyer. In this case, it is very simple. You have to deliver copies of the complaint and summons to the person or leave copies at their “dwelling house or usual place of abode with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein. . . .” The person (legally, this cannot be you) delivering your summons must either put the documents in the hands of the person being sued, or they must give them to someone who lives at the same place as the person being sued who is old enough to take the documents and be trusted to pass them on in a timely manner understanding how important they are. In Georgia, a person at least 15 years or older are considered to be of “suitable age” to entrust them to deliver the summons and complaint.

You cannot tape the documents to their front door unless the suit is for less than $200.00 and you have tried personally serving them or someone that lives there and failed. Even then, you still must also send a copy by registered mail. This is suboptimal.

Suing a Corporation

How do things change if you are suing a corporation that is incorporated or authorized to do business in the state of Georgia? You can serve the president or any officer of the corporation, the official secretary or cashier (these are positions in the company that is different from their common use meanings), their managing agent, or another agent thereof.

If you cannot serve process on any of these people, you can serve process on the Secretary of State on their behalf (there are guidelines for this, you can’t just hand your documents at an elected official and call it a day). It is probably a bad sign if you have to serve as the Secretary of State. Corporations are required by law to maintain a registered office and to appoint a registered agent in the state of Georgia. So, if they haven’t, or those places and people can’t be reached, it doesn’t mean good things for your suit reaching the people responsible.

The most common way to serve a process on a company is by serving a process on their registered agent, a person designated in the corporation’s registration paperwork with the state. The most common thing that happens when serving a corporation is that you look up the registered office and registered agent of a company in the documents the company filed with the Secretary of State, and your process server heads over there and gets them to accept the paperwork and sign an affidavit saying that they got the service documents.

Serving the Secretary of State on Behalf of a Corporation

First, make sure that the Secretary or their designated agent gets a copy of the summons, complaint, and the affidavit acknowledging service so that they can file it as required by law. Your attorney must then certify in writing to the Secretary that they have forwarded copies of all the relevant documents to the last known registered office and agent of the corporation in question and that service cannot be completed and it, therefore, appears that the corporation has failed to maintain an office or appoint a registered agent.

Additionally, if there is a registered office or agent outside of the state of Georgia, your attorney must also send that office and agent a copy of the complaint by registered mail. More than likely, if a company is doing business in the state of Georgia, they are following the law and have a registered office and agent. Service will be much simpler.

Some of the Less Common Ways To Complete Service of Process

The methods we are going to discuss here are uncommon for a reason:

  • If you are suing a foreign corporation, foreign in the sense that they are based in another country or in that they are based in another state or a nonresident individual. You can complete service by serving on their local registered agent, cashier, secretary, or other designated to receive process agent. This also applies to any nonresident partnership, joint-stock company, or association. This requirement is similar to the requirements for a domestic corporation, and as such, you should hope that they do have someone designated for service, otherwise, it can cause you to default to the Secretary of State rules, and if they don’t have a registered agent or office, then there is probably something suspicious with that company, and it is going to be a high hill to climb to hold them legally responsible.
  • When suing a minor, you have to serve them and their parent or legal guardian. This is probably less rare than we might like, as teen drivers aren’t known for how reserved and slow they drive. If the minor is married, you do not have to serve their parent or legal guardian.
  • When suing a county, municipality, city, or town, you have to serve the mayor, city manager, chairman of the board of commissioners, president of the council of trustees, or their agent authorized to receive service of process.

This sounds very complicated, but the long and short of this is that you have to find out how they choose to be served. This is publicly posted information and is easier to find now that everything is on the internet. But, as we have said, YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO PERSONALLY DELIVER YOUR COMPLAINT TO A DEFENDANT! Make sure you hire a reputable process server and discuss exactly who you are trying to sue.

An experienced process server will know exactly who to serve or at least where to look to find who to serve. There is no replacement for a good attorney. So please make sure you consult with an injury and accident attorney before taking legal action, and if you’ve been in a car wreck and want to make sure you get a fair deal from an insurance company, call the CEO Lawyer Personal Injury Law Firm at (833) 254-2923.

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