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Using a Process Server in North Carolina

By: Gull Riaz, NCCP

In my 3-4 years of serving legal documents, I have found that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all method for serving legal papers. Rule 4(j) of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure outlines the service of a Civil Summons, Rule 5(b) of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure outlines the service of pleadings and other papers, and Rule 45(b) of the North Carolina Rule of Civil Procedure outlines the service of a subpoena. Service of legal documents can be completed in different ways – mailing, telefacsimile, publication, personal service – with each of them having unique ways to reach their intended recipient and effect service. Personal service is the most interesting because many things can happen either to your benefit or detriment. Below we look at two situations when using a Process Server for serving your legal documents.

General Overview of Civil Process Service

First, you will want to have the person you are serving, or their acceptable agent, listed on the document. Second, you want to make sure you have the correct dwelling of the individual or registered office for the person or agency. Third, you will want to choose an acceptable form of service that will give proper notice and time for the recipient to receive and review the delivered documents. Next, you will send your documents out and monitor the service closely. Last, you will file the proof or Affidavit of Service with the Court showing you were successful in serving the legal document, or you will attempt another form of service if unsuccessful.

North Carolina does not require registration or license to serve Process in North Carolina. Rule 4 of North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure states that if the action is filed in North Carolina it must go to Sheriff’s Office first for personal service or some other person duly authorized by law to serve Summonses. Under Rule 4(h1) of North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, anyone over the age of twenty-one years and not a party to the action or related by blood or marriage to a party may serve a Civil Summons. Rule 4(j)(1) states that service upon a natural person is completed by delivery of a copy of the summons and complaint to the natural person or by leaving copies thereof at the defendant’s dwelling house or usual abode with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein. When serving Corporations, partnerships, or organizations with a summons and complaint, Rule 4 states a copy of the summons and complaint must be delivered to an officer, director, agent authorized to accept service in its behalf or a person who is apparently in charge of the office.

What happens when the individual or agent does not accept personal service by the Process Server versus the method of sliding the papers under the door? In the first situation a Process Server goes to the address of the individual or agent, but they say they will not accept service. In the second situation a Process Server goes to the address of the individual or agent and slides the papers under the door once they arrive at the location.

Rule 45(b)(1) states personal service of a subpoena can be carried out by the sheriff, sheriff’s deputy, coroner, or by someone who is not a party and is not less than eighteen years of age by delivering the subpoena upon the person named therein. In the first situation, when the individual or agent refuses to accept the service of the document upon delivery to them by process server, they would have to respond, or they may be held in contempt as cited in North Carolina General Statute 5A-21 Article 2 and Rule 45(e)(1) since a Subpoena is a form of Court Order. (Rubin, John and Mark Botts. “Responding to Subpoenas: A Guide for Mental Health Facilities.” Popular Government 64:4 (1999):27-38) In situation two, the intended individual or acceptable agent can object to this form of service as it was never physically delivered to the person or acceptable agent named therein to comply with the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. With a growing population needing assistance with service of their Summonses, Complaints, and Subpoenas, the demand for Process Servers is sure to grow as well and many more situations are bound to get attention.