Reference from Coast to Coast - Service of ProcessBy Jan Bissett and Margi Heinen, Published on September 16, 2002
With summer officially over,many lawyers find their September calendars filling up with court dates. New associates are beginning work and many of them will be asked to determine the proper service of process so that complaints can go forward. All first year law students are exposed to service of process, typically in a pleadings or civil procedure class. But first year pleadings as well as legal research classes often don't emphasize the practical research aspects of service of process – court rules, statutes and the tools necessary for locating the proper party or resident agent to serve.
Sometimes arranging for service of process is pretty straight-forward. Just follow the rule. The Rule? And where might one find that? State statutes or court rules usually provide for the manner of service. Martindale Hubbell's Law Digest will provide citations to the relevant statute as well as a brief description of the requirements. You may want to check the full text of your statute or code if you're unfamiliar with the requirements in a particular jurisdiction. Court Rules, Forms & Dockets may help you to locate a specific state's court rules for any applicable material. Zimmerman's Research Guide Service of Processgives an overview of companies, banks in New York as well as tips on service of process abroad.
Sometimes arranging for service of process is not straight-forward at all. You've figured out whom to serve but can't locate the party. Now what? Treat it as you would any other public records request. Check The Virtual Chase's Company Information Guide or People Finder Guide to review your research technique. If you've determined that you're serving a corporation, you will most likely need to identify a registered agent for that corporation. The Web has made this search much easier and various web sites can lead you to State Agencies which register corporations and maintain a list of their resident agents: Resident Agent Information and Links, National Association of Secretaries of State,as well as LLRX's Research Roundup:Business Filings Databases - Updatedprovide links to State corporation records which may be available for free or a small fee. A reminder to searchers of corporate databases-some of these are primitive and sometimes only an incomplete corporate name is available, so it may be useful to do a broad search and see if there is more than one entity with the corporate name you have. A state may provide for service to its Secretary of State if service to the corporate address has failed or for particular types of businesses.
Continuing on with "not straight-forward" at all; prepare yourself for different treatment of what you may perceive to be a "corporation" – you may not be looking for the typical resident agent. Banks and insurance companies may fall into this category. Note the earlier reference to Zimmerman's Research Guide "Service of Process"and New York banks. The Secretary of State or similar state agency may accept service for a particular industry. Alabama, Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, South Carolina, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin provide insurance service of process information varying from statutory notice to a searchable database of resident agents by insurance company name. Please note: this is not an exhaustive list so you may need to check by individual state if you are faced with insurance company service.
Also confusing is the fact that States may handle the "who accepts service" differently. A glance at the North American Securities Administrators Association Form-U-2-Uniform Consent to Service of Process indicates which agency in each state accepts service in conjunction with securities issues. Even though the functions of these agencies are similar, the names are not.
Perhaps the most frequent question about service of process arises when one is forced to leave the United States altogether. The Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extra-Judicial Documents in Civil and Commercial Matters (State Department or Hague Conference) governs that process in many nations. This convention is reprinted in the annotated codes, U.S.C.S. and U.S.C.A, as well as the Martindale Hubbell International Law Digest. Depending on the nation and the circumstances, you may need the Inter-American Convention on Letters Rogatory also available from the State Department or Martindale Hubbell International Law Digest. Zimmerman's Research Guide Service of Process cites the most commonly used sources – U.S. Department of State, Martindale Hubbell and also provides references to articles which may be of assistance. Other guides or pathfinders are available. For instance, Denver University College ofLaw's Westminster Library Handout 25:provides bibliographic information on international service of process materials.
Service of process is often one of the tasks that remains on the "to-do" list until late in the day or until time is short. If there is a non-standard aspect to the service of process or you're unfamiliar with company research and public records sources you may need to service your own research process.
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