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Reference From Coast to Coast: Service of Process Redux

By Jan Bissett and Margi Heinen, Published on November 24, 2007

This month we're returning to one of our previous columns for an update. Service of process requests often combine the practical application of legal research and public records research. A quick search of the court rules and public records and you're good to go, right? Well, maybe… so let's review.

In the world of legal proceedings you need an invitation to play or a notice that play-time has commenced. Rules dictating who is invited and how the invitation is issued fall within service of process. These rules are often found in statutes, court rules or other administrative rules depending upon the forum. Martindale Hubbell's Law Digest provides citations to the relevant state or county statute as well as a brief description of specific 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. LLRX Court Rules, Forms & Dockets may help you locate a specific state's court rules for any applicable material. Zimmerman's Research Guide Service of Process gives an overview of U.S. companies, New York banks as well as tips on service of process abroad. As implied above, the invitation process is not “one size fits all”—in fact, the status of the invitee and the type of entities involved will affect how one serves them. In California process servers can refer to a book on the subject to help with the variations such as serving prisoners, persons in the military, persons on tribal lands and more.

So let’s imagine the rule or statute describing service of process in your jurisdiction is displayed before you and you've figured out whom to serve but can't locate the party. Treat it as you would any other public records request. Check the Virtual Chase Company Information Guide or Finding People to review your research techniques. Keep in mind that if you've determined that one of the players is a company there may be a choice of locations or persons to receive service. You may need to identify the resident agent – a person or company who has arranged to receive any pleadings/filings in a legal proceeding. Various websites 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 [registration required for access to Business Entities Section] as well as LLRX Research RoundUp: Business Filings Databases provide links to State corporation records which may be available with or without a small fee or required registration. A reminder to searchers of corporate databases – don't expect sophisticated searching or access. Perform a broad search to include the possibility of an incomplete corporate name. Note the possibility of service to a State agency or department such as a Secretary of State if service to the corporate address has failed or for particular types of businesses.

Alternatively, the rule or statute describing service of process in your jurisdiction is displayed before you and you've haven't figured out whom to serve... Okay, deep breath. If it's a business, you may need to locate the "principal place of business" and a resident agent or there may be a specific state agency within your jurisdiction that accepts service for a particular industry – financial services, either banking or insurance, is often such an industry. For example, the Michigan Office of Financial & Insurance Services accepts service for some insurers but not others. Also beware of variations of agency names from state to state. While this Michigan agency is also designated as accepting service in the North American Securities Administrators Association Form U-2 Uniform Consent to Service of Process, its counterparts in sister states go by different names.

You may also have difficulty ascertaining whom to serve when government agencies or foreign countries are involved. These service of process issues then become more legal research and analysis problems when confronted with questions of sovereign immunity or jurisdiction. Questions about service of process abroad may be answered with information from the U.S. State Department or Hague Conventions. The U.S. Department of State's Judicial Assistance offers information on service of process abroad, treaties on service of documents (Hague Conventions) and the Convention on Letters Rogatory. The Hague Conventions are also reprinted in the annotated U.S. codes (U.S.C.A., U.S.C.S.) as well as the Martindale Hubbell International Law Digest.

For service to federal or state agencies, you may have to consult the Code of Federal Regulations or the applicable state regulations. For instance, service to the U.S. Department of State will need to comply with the regulations at 22 C.F.R. 172 et. seq. Sometimes, just when you have found what you believe to be the right person to serve, you end up back at the “where do I serve them” question. For instance, can you serve a federal agency’s General Counsel via a regional address or must the documents go to Washington D. C. for all regions? Ah, the details involved in service of process can amuse us for days.