How to Serve Someone Papers for Small Claims Court

Mar 20, 2023 10 min read
ABC Legal Services

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ABC Legal Services

When you're considering taking someone to small claims court or are getting started with the small claims process, you want your case to go smoothly.  

A major component of your small claims case will be providing the other party with adequate notice of your claim and your intent to proceed to small claims court. You may think of this colloquially as “how to serve someone papers.” The official name is “service of process,” and there are specific rules and regulations governing how to officially deliver legal documents to those involved in a lawsuit.

Read on to learn more about small claims court, as well as how to deliver the legal documents (how to serve someone papers) so that you don't have any challenges in court.

What Is Small Claims Court?

Small claims court is a court that only handles civil cases, or cases between people or businesses over non-criminal matters. Cases in small claims court are usually over money up to a certain dollar amount.   

In small claims courts, people may choose to seek legal counsel or to appear without an attorney and represent themselves.

The maximum amount that you can sue for in small claims court is determined by the state you live in and the court system. Some states set the limit at $5,000, while others may go up to $15,000.  

Reasons You May Go to Small Claims Court

There are many reasons why you might need to file a small claims court case. The most common reason is to settle a dispute between two parties, but you can also go to small claims court to file a claim against a business or even the government.

Here are some examples of why people file small claims court cases: 

  • You paid for a product or a service and didn't receive it
  • Someone borrowed money from you and hasn't paid it back
  • You're a landlord and need to collect rent from your tenant
  • You're a former tenant and the landlord won't return your security deposit
  • You were injured by someone's dog and want to be reimbursed for your medical expenses  

To initiate a case, in most states, you need to fill out paperwork first, which usually includes a complaint. The complaint is where you detail the issue for which you’re taking the other person or business to court. Next, in most cases, you’ll file the complaint with the appropriate court.

Note: In small claims cases, it's important to research venue requirements under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which requires that the selected venue be local to the other party. To help, ABC Legal offers a free venue selection tool to all of our customers within their ABC Legal account. 

Once you file your claim, the court will determine whether to approve it. If your complaint is approved to move forward, the court will provide you with a summons and any other paperwork needed to notify the party of your intent to sue. You'll then need to think about formal delivery of these documents, or “how to serve someone papers.”

How To Serve a Defendant in Small Claims Cases

So, how to serve someone papers? With your summons and any other paperwork ready to be delivered, you'll need to look for a qualified individual to execute service of process.  

State laws differ in regard to service of process, including requirements for who can serve your documents. In some instances, the individual can be any unbiased third party of a certain age. In other instances, you might have to work with the local sheriff's office or a process server.  

If working with a process server, you can choose a company that works with many process servers or a single individual. A vendor that works with many experienced process servers can often be the better option since you’ll have greater assurance that the person executing your serve meets requirements of the state. For example, some states may require current certification. ABC Legal fully vets process servers to be certain they meet all requirements within the state. 

Regardless of whom you choose, you will need an individual who will comply with all local rules and regulations. The individual needs to comply with how to serve a defendant in small claims cases, so the serve will hold up in court. 

Here are some additional quality standards you should look for in a process server vendor when pursuing how to serve someone papers:

  • Quick confirmation of your order, so you aren't left waiting and wondering
  • Real-time updates while your serve is being executed
  • Up-to-date technology that automates tasks whenever possible, which makes it easier to find people who are evading being served
  • Consistent and transparent pricing
  • Accurate proof of service that will hold up in court (more on that next!)

How Will I Receive Small Claims Court Proof of Service?

Once your documents have been delivered, you must obtain a document called a “proof of service” (sometimes also called a return of service). This document is the official communication from the process server where they validate that the individual has received the documents in accordance with the law. Without this sworn statement from the individual who delivered the documents, your serve is not considered complete and the case cannot proceed in court. 

In addition to providing small claims court proof of service, ABC Legal’s process servers will compile evidence of the serve, such as GPS coordinates or a photograph, to help ensure the serve stands up in court. In addition, the process server agrees to testify in court if need be and ABC Legal validates the serve. All of these additional supports make for "ironclad proof of service."

Once you receive your proof of service from the process server, you will need to file the document with the court. The court will need to view the proof to determine whether the other party has received proper notice of the complaint.

Why Choose ABC Legal for Your Service of Process Needs? 

See how easy it can be to work with ABC Legal, from simple document upload to real-time tracking of your serve to fast receipt of validated proof of service.

How to Serve Someone Papers in Small Claims

ABC Legal Services

Written by

ABC Legal Services
Trusted by over 50,000 professionals, ABC Legal is America’s leading process server. Our cloud-based system seamlessly streamlines document delivery across all devices. With a network of 3,000+ servers spanning 50 states and 77 countries, our platform provides real-time updates for our 6 million+ annual attempts, enhancing transparency, compliance, and reliability.

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