What are the Federal Rules for Service of Process?

Nov 9, 2021 6 min read

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) bring some uniformity to federal civil proceedings. Understanding what constitutes service of process in cases involving federal courts is essential to ensuring lawsuits properly proceed. The rules describe what constitutes proper national service of process. The federal service of process rules are not your only concern when it comes to serving process. Law firms must also adhere to state laws and regulations, which are often more strict, when serving legal documents to a defendant.

It’s important that your law firm work closely with experienced process servers who understand all applicable rules inside and out. Failing to properly serve a defendant could torpedo your case. That being said, it’s never a bad time for a quick refresher on what some of the FRCP service of process rules are.

What Information Should a Summons Contain for a Federal Court?

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure service of process articles outline the information a summons is required to contain in Rule 4. A summons must include the following information before a national service of process may take place:

  • The name of the court
  • The names of the parties to the case
  • The summons must be directed toward the defendant(s)
  • The name and address of the plaintiff’s attorney, or the plaintiff’s address if acting without representation
  • The timeframe in which the defendant has to appear and respond
  • Notification that a failure to appear will result in a default judgment against the defendant for the amount listed in the complaint
  • The summons must be signed by a court clerk
  • The summons must bear the court’s seal

If any amendments need to be made to a summons, the court allows for doing so.

How Will the Court Issue a Summons?

Once you, as the plaintiff or the party representing the plaintiff, have verified that your summons contains all of the required information for federal court service of process and the complaint has been filed with the court, you may present the summons to the court’s clerk for signature and seal. After the clerk signs and seals the summons, it will be issued to the plaintiff or the party representing the plaintiff for service upon the defendant. If multiple defendants are named in the complaint, a separate summons or a copy of the original summons will also be issued to the plaintiff for service on the defendants.

Who Can Perform Service?

In general, a summons may be served by anyone who is at least 18 years of age, and is an impartial third-party to the case. Alternatively, the plaintiff may request that the service be performed by a United States Marshal or deputy marshal, or by a person who is specially appointed by the court. Service of process may also be performed by a reputable third-party, such as ABC Legal. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure also outline rules for who can serve other kinds of documents, here.

How is an Individual Served in the United States?

The service of process federal rules state that, unless a federal law provides otherwise, an individual may be served in a judicial district of the United States by following the state’s law where the defendant is located for service of process. Process may also be served by:

  • Personally delivering a copy of the summons and complaint to the defendant(s)
  • Leaving a copy of the summons and complaint at the defendant’s residence with someone of suitable age who also resides at the residence
  • Delivering a copy of the summons and complaint to an agent authorized to receive service

It’s important to pay particular attention to the nuances of each state’s law for serving process. For example, while the FRCP merely states that a summons may be left with someone of “suitable age,” many states specifically address the minimum age of a person who may receive service on behalf of a defendant. For example, in the state of Florida, the minimum age is 15, whereas in California the minimum age is 18.

What About an Individual in a Foreign Country?

Technology has truly created a global society and it’s very possible a defendant may reside outside of the United States. In these situations, national service of process rules does not necessarily apply. The Hague Convention spells out how service of process is to be carried out in countries that are signatories to the Hague Convention. This helps to streamline and speed up foreign service of process. However, if the defendant is residing in a country that is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, things can become much more complicated. You will have to look at the service of process laws of the country in question. In these situations, service of process can take up to a year, if not longer.

How Do You Prove Service Has Been Performed?

FRCP service of process does not simply allow for documents to be served in order to call it a day. Unless a defendant has waived service of process, proof of the service must be made to the court. This proof must be provided by affidavit of the process server as outline in Rule 4(l), unless service was rendered by a United States marshal or deputy marshal.

How Much Time Do You Have to Perform Process of Service?

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure service of process do not allow for an indefinite timeline on when process may be served on a summons. A defendant needs to be served within 90 days after the complaint has been filed with the court. If the deadline has passed, the court, either by motion or acting on its own accord after informing the plaintiff, will dismiss the complaint without prejudice or issue an order that service must be made by an appropriate date. However, if the plaintiff is able to show good cause for why process wasn’t served in the 90-day time period, the court may opt to extend the deadline for an appropriate period of time.

The delivery of legal documents can take time. Quick service at the outset can go a long way toward ensuring a case is allowed to move forward. If a defendant cannot be found at their last known address, having a process server who is adept at skip tracing can help keep your case on track.

ABC Legal Can Help Ensure Federal Court Service of Process Rules Are Followed

As you can see, the federal service of process rules can get complicated quickly. This blog merely touches on some of the information contained in the FRCP. Your law firm shouldn’t have to trust a process server of questionable experience or reputation with your most important documents. ABC Legal has a qualified team of process servers across the country ready to deliver your legal documents and perfect service of process. To find out more about how we can meet the service of process needs of your law firm, request a demo with us today.

Todd Harrison

Written by

Todd Harrison
Professional Writer & Attorney. Todd is a licensed attorney who brings more than 10 years of legal marketing knowledge to write for ABC Legal. He is dedicated to making high-concept legal topics accessible to people from all walks of life.

Recent Posts

Popular posts

Follow Our Newsfeed