How to Find Out if Someone Has Been Served to Appear in Court

By Teo Spengler - Updated June 05, 2017
Man serving court papers

Legal service is not the kind of service that comes with a smile, but refers to the legal requirement that a person be given written notice of a lawsuit against him. Since the person giving him the written notice must file a sworn statement about the service with the court, you can look in the public court file to determine whether he was served.

Right to Notice

It would be much easier to win a lawsuit against somebody who was not told about the action. The judge and jury would only hear one side of the story. But our justice system requires that a person who is sued must be told about the suit. He must be served with certain legal documents, generally a summons and a complaint against him, within a certain period of time after the suit is filed in court. In California, for example, this period is 60 days. The summons tells him the court case number and the time period in which he must respond.

Serving a Party

Although serving a party is most often accomplished by handing him a copy of the summons and complaint, the person bringing the action usually cannot do this herself. She must arrange for another adult – someone who is not a party in the lawsuit – to hand the papers to him. In some states, like California, this can be a friend or someone you hire, termed a process server. In other states, like Florida, service is always made by the sheriff or someone approved by him. If the person sued is avoiding service or is difficult to locate, other means to serve the documents are available. For example, substituted service is where the process server leaves a copy of the documents at the person's home or workplace with whoever is in charge after several attempts at personally serving him have failed.

Proof of Service

The person who serves the summons fills in a form called Proof of Service of Summons. The person sets out the time and place she gave the defendant the summons. She signs the proof of service under penalty of perjury and files it with the court.

This is how to find out if someone was served court papers. Anybody interested in finding out whether the defendant has been served may come to the courthouse, review the file and look for the proof of service. This is true in every type of civil case, including family law matters like divorce.

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.

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