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Service of Process
Giving Notice to the Other Party

What happens after I file my claim?

Who can serve the lawsuit papers for me?

How can the defendant be served with my lawsuit papers?

Can the defendant be served by posting the lawsuit paper on his property or by publishing it in the newspaper?

My defendant is a corporation (or a limited partnership or a limited liability company); who can be served with the lawsuit papers?

I am suing a bank; who can be served with the lawsuit papers?

How soon must the defendant be served with legal process?

I need more time to serve my defendants; what should I do?

What do I do with the Proof of Service form?

Can I serve a defendant that resides outside of California?

What if I do not know where the defendant can be served?

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What happens after I file my claim?

After you have filed your lawsuit and received a trial date, the court issues you the official Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Defendant papers. You must have these papers served on your defendants by another person, who must then complete the Proof of Service form for each defendant. The completed proofs must then be returned to the court clerk for your case to be heard.

If you have the court serve a defendant by certified mail, then the return receipt the court gets back serves as a proof of service.

Who can serve the lawsuit papers for me?

Anyone 18 years of age or older and not a party to your lawsuit can serve the papers on the defendant. This may include a sheriff of the county where the defendant resides or a private licensed process server. You may also ask the court to serve the defendant by certified mail.

How can the defendant be served with my lawsuit papers?

The 3 ways of serving a defendant allowed by small claims court are:

Certified mail

Only the court can serve by certified mail. It is cheap ($8.00), but the success rate is low because, often times, a defendant refuses to claim the mail or another person signs for it.

Personal service

Your process server can give a copy of Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Defendant to the defendant in person. If the defendant refuses to take the paper in his hand, then the server may leave a copy in the defendant's immediate vicinity.

Substituted service

If your process server cannot give the paper directly to the defendant, then the defendant can be served in substitution. Your server leaves a copy with a competent adult member of the defendant's household (related or not) at his residence, or with a person who is apparently in charge of receiving legal documents or mail at defendant's primary place of business or employment. Then the second copy is sent, by first class mail, in an envelope addressed to the defendant, to the address where the first copy was left.

Can the defendant be served by posting the lawsuit paper on his property or by publishing it in a newspaper?

No.  Unlike in a Superior Court action, you cannot have a small claims defendant served by posting or by publication in a newspaper.

My defendant is a corporation (or a limited partnership or a limited liability company); who can be served with the lawsuit papers?

Your process server can serve either the company's director, its executive officers (for example, the CEO, treasurer, president), or its designated agent for service of process-a person or a company the defendant named to accept lawsuit papers on its behalf. You can get the name and address of the agent for service of process by contacting the Secretary of State's office at 1500 11th Street, 3rd floor, Sacramento, California 95814, or by accessing their web site at www.ss.ca.gov.

I am suing a bank; who can be served with the lawsuit papers?

The law allows you to serve its directors, officers, managers, or even a teller.

How soon must the defendant be served with legal process?

That depends on whether the defendant can be served directly or by substituted service, and also on whether or not the defendant resides in Kings County or out. In county, personal service must be done at least 15 days prior to trial and substituted service must be done at least 20 days prior to trial. Out of county, personal service must be completed at least 20 days prior and substituted service at least 25 days prior to trial.

I need more time to serve my defendants; what should I do?

If none of the defendants have been served, then you simply return all copies of the Plaintiff’s Claim and Order to Defendant back to the small claims court clerk and ask for a later trial date.

If some of your defendants have been served and the proofs of service on them have been filed, then you need to ask the court for a postponement of the trial date. You must send to each of the defendants who had been served a copy of the completed Request to Postpone Small Claims Hearing (SC-110) then submit the original copy of the Request to the court at least 10 days before the scheduled trial date along with the $10 fee. If your request is granted, then the court will set another trial date and notify you and the defendants who had been served. You will also be given copies of the new Plaintiff’s Claim and Order to Defendant so that you can continue to try serving those defendants who have not yet been served.

  What do I do with the Proof of Service form?

Your process server must complete and sign the Proof of Service form (SC-104), indicating when, how and where the defendant was served. That proof of service must be received prior to the trial or produced at the time of the trial.

Can I serve a defendant that resides outside of California?

The general rule is that service of process for a small claims case must be done within the state. However, you can have a non-resident owner of California real property, who has no agent for service in California, served by the court through certified mail ($8.00 per defendant) or by another person leaving a copy with the defendant directly. Your process server can also serve the defendant by leaving a copy of the lawsuit papers with an adult member of the defendant’s household or an adult in charge of receiving legal papers or mail at the defendant’s primary place of work. The process server must then mail a second copy to the defendant addressed to where the first copy was left. (The cost of hiring a process server to serve a non-resident real property owner defendant will vary.)

Also, a non-resident driver of a motor vehicle involved in an accident on a California public roadway may be served by serving both the Director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the non-resident driver by any of the methods described for serving the non-resident property owner.

What if I do not know where the defendant can be served?

These are some suggestions in helping you locate your defendant:

County or city business licensing records

Check the County or City Business Licensing or Fictitious Business License filings for information on a business defendant. They will give out or confirm the ownership information.

Secretary of State Records

All corporations, limited liability companies (LLC), and limited partnerships (LP) that are formed or doing business in California must be registered with the office of the Secretary of State of California. That office is located at 1500 11th Street, 3rd floor, Sacramento, CA 95814. They do not give out information over the phone, but they do maintain a web site where the information you need is available online over the Internet. The address of their website is www.ss.ca.gov.

Public real estate records

If the defendant owns real property, his name and address will be on file-for public viewing-with the County Recorder's Office in the county in which the property is owned. Not all owners list a street address under the MAILING ADDRESS line on the filing, but one of the properties owned (if there are multiple ones) will probably be the actual residence of the defendant.

Post office box records

If the defendant has left a forwarding address with the U.S. Post Office, then you may send a request to the post office of the zip code where the defendant/debtor used to live. Even if you did a directory search on the Internet, you may wish to do this since some of those web directories may be updated infrequently.

If the defendant has a post office box, the Postal Service will give you the defendant's forwarding address or the street address if you can certify that you are seeking that information for the sole purpose of serving lawsuit papers. Pick up a form at the nearest post office and submit it to the post office where the defendant has a post office box.

If all you have is a Post Office Box number for the defendant, you may request that the post office, where the box is located, release the street address of the P.O Box holder to you. You must submit a U.S. Postal Service information request form along with a certified copy of your Plaintiff’s Claim and Order to Defendant. Be aware that not all P.O. Box holders update their street address with the Post Office. If the defendant has moved since acquiring the P.O. Box, the street address may not be current.

Department of Motor Vehicles records

The D.M.V. will not release residential addresses to litigants and process servers. However, your insurance company may be able to obtain the information if your suit involves a car accident.

Credit report

A credit report includes a debtor's name, address, telephone number, Social Security number, and date of birth, as well as credit history and possibly employment history. A credit bureau might provide a copy of the defendants credit report if you state that you need the information for a legitimate business purpose, such as collecting a debt, as per Civil Code § 1785.11(a)(3)(F). Experian, Equifax and TransUnion are the three biggest bureaus.

Private investigator / skip tracing

You may also attempt a "skip trace", which can be performed through credit reporting agencies and registered process servers. Look under "credit agency" and "process serving" in the Yellow Pages to inquire with various firms that might offer this service. They search public records and other records that might lead to your defendant/debtor. They do charge a fee, which is not recoverable as part of your small claims action. Some private investigators also perform similar services.

 

 

 
Superior Court of California, Kings County
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