When a civil lawsuit is commenced, the Defendant must be given notice. The way notice is given is by having a private process server or a sheriff’s deputy hand copies of the Summons and Complaint to the Defendant. Then that person, who is independent of the office of the lawyer representing the Plaintiff, provides a Return of Service, which is an affidavit stating that the Defendant was served personally at such and such a place at such and such a time by handing to the Defendant copies of the Summons and Complaint. Okay, that is your legal lesson that is the prerequisite to understanding the rest of this blog post and to appreciate the humor herein.
So in one of my current cases, I filed suit on behalf of my client, the Plaintiff, who has been injured in an auto accident. I used the internet to try to locate the Defendant. What I found was that the Defendant’s name came up on a link to the Sheriff’s Most Wanted List for our county (as a violent criminal).
I called the Sheriff’s office and asked someone in an administrative position whether this most wanted individual had been found. I was told that he is still a fugitive from the law. I had been hoping that he was in jail for it would be easy to serve the papers there. I advised the Court of what the Sheriff’s office told me. The Court filed an order that I had 30 more days to serve the Defendant or at least show that I diligently tried to serve him, or the case would be dismissed for failure to prosecute, which means not keeping it moving through the litigation process. Apparently, my investigation through the Sheriff’s office was not enough diligence.
It seemed futile to ask the Sheriff’s office to attempt service on a man on its own Most Wanted List because if they knew where to find him, they would have arrested him, so I hired a private process server.
There is a way to do substitute service by serving another adult who lives in the same household, provided that other adult confirms that the premises are the residence of the Defendant. I hoped that such an attempt would satisfy the Court. I was not confident because I did not expect family members to reveal the whereabouts of a fugitive relative or even acknowledge that he lives there. Surely, they would be wary. Probably the Sheriff had questioned them. I told the process server of the names of two different women at that address.
I had to leave my office before the process server could come there to get the paperwork. We made other arrangements. He called my cell phone when he got to the restaurant where my wife and I were eating with her parents and another couple. When it rang, I went outside for our brief meeting in the parking lot in order to give him the papers that needed to be served. It probably looked like a drug deal. I returned to the table, apologizing to those at my table for leaving during the meal.
Before dessert, my cell phone rang again. The process server joked about being sorry it took so long, promising to be faster next time. He told me he served the Defendant personally at his residence. The Defendant even confirmed that he was the right guy because he had been in a car accident.
So, today I will file the return of service with the Court.
But here is my question — should I tell the Sheriff that he can find this Most Wanted Fugitive at his house, which is a few blocks from the restaurant?
No one likes a tattletale.
Nor a bragger.