A service of process agent is a person who is qualified to personally deliver legal documents on behalf of the court to an individual or entity. The person performing the service must be at least 18 years old and not a party to the dispute. He or she could be a regular citizen, a court officer, a US Marshal Service or local sheriff deputy, or a registered service of process agent, also known as a professional process server, in most cases. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure govern legal service in the United States, but individual states and courts, as well as local governments outside of the United States, may provide additional guidance on proper procedure and adequate service. Service of legal papers, for example, is required in some countries a huissier de justice, which is the equivalent of a bailiff or sheriff.
A service of process agent’s main responsibility is to deliver a summons or other legal documents to the person named in the court papers. To show that service was properly made, the agent must file a notarized Affidavit of Service with the court, detailing the date, time, and location of service, as well as a brief description of the person served. This document then becomes a part of the legal record for all time. In fact, without it, a case may be dismissed or vacated on the affirmative defense that the defendant was not given adequate notice. When the party to be served is a corporate entity, organization, or federal agency, substitute service upon a representative or officer is permitted.
When it comes to granting individuals the right to act as a service of process agent, most states follow common law practice. In some states, however, the court is required to appoint a process server. Process servers must be licensed in California, Oklahoma, Arizona, Illinois, Nevada, Montana, Alaska, and Rhode Island. Some of these states also require that a period of training be completed before a competency test is administered. In some states, a process server must also apply for certification renewal and be evaluated a review board on a regular basis.
While the responsibilities of a service of process agent are straightforward, the role’s importance should not be underestimated. Because they were not notified of the action, an individual may have only discovered that a court action was pending against them when their property or personal freedom was taken away. Failure to answer the court could result in death or life imprisonment in some parts of the world. Today, the service of process agent provides sufficient notice of “the process” so that the party being served has enough time to prepare and respond to the complaint or charges brought against them, as well as to hire legal counsel to represent them in court.