Service of process is the term given to legal notice of a court or administrative body's exercise of its jurisdiction over individuals who are the subject of proceedings or actions brought before such court, body or other tribunal.
Each jurisdiction has rules regarding the means of service of process. In some cases the law may require the summons to be served upon the person personally, or upon the person or someone of suitable age and discretion at the person's abode or place of business or employment. In some cases service of process may be effected through the mail as in some small claims procedures. Often the court or procedural rules allow for the service of process by court order or by publication when an individual cannot be located in a particular jurisdiction.
In most Anglo-American legal systems the service of process is effectuated by a process server, usually an adult who does not have an interest in the outcome of the litigation. Some juridictions require or permit process to be served by a court official, such as a sheriff, marshal, constable or bailiff. There may be licensing requirements for private process servers as in New York City. Other jurisdictions such as Georgia require a court order allowing a private person to serve process. In some places the parties themselves may effectuate service. In the French legal system, the task is performed by a huissier.
Proper service of process results in personal jurisdiction of the court over the person served. If the defendant ignores further pleadings or fails to participate in the proceedings, then the court or administrative body may find the defendant in default and award relief to the claimant, petitioner or plaintiff.
In ancient times the service of a summons was considered a royal act that had serious consequences. It was a summons to come to the King's Court and to respond to the demand of a loyal subject. In ancient Persia, failure to respond to the King's summons meant a sentence of death. Today the penalties for ignoring a summons are usually money judgments that must be subsequently enforced.
Service of process in cases filed in the United States district courts is governed by Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
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