Anatomy of a Lawsuit, Part 2: Service of Process

Now that the plaintiff has filed the Summons and Complaint (or, if in federal court, filed the Complaint and received the Summons issued by the court), they must “serve” these documents on the defendant(s).

There are highly detailed and technical rules governing this process (see, e.g., FRCP 4; CPLR Article 3) which is beyond the scope of this article. In sum, the failure of the plaintiff to timely serve the necessary papers – in strict compliance with all applicable laws and rules – will result in the dismissal of their case, perhaps for good (in legal terms, “with prejudice”).

Generally, the appropriate method of service will depend on the status of the defendant – i.e., whether the defendant is, e.g., a natural person, a corporation, a partnership, a limited liability company, etc.

General practice is for counsel to retain the services of a “process server,” a professional whose business is – you guessed it – serving legal documents, and supplying the necessary proof of same.

Next: Defendant’s Move

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