Can a Plaintiff Serve a Defendant?

No, generally a plaintiff cannot be the person to serve a defendant with the initial complaint and summons.

In the article that follows, we’ll explain why.

Can a Plaintiff Serve a Defendant? (EXPLAINED)


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While service of documents upon the defendant seems like a simple thing, it is actually quite a significant moment.

The simple act of giving the defendant the summons and initial complaint is a key moment in a lawsuit.

That moment establishes timelines as well as obligations for all of the parties involved.

Because this is such a significant moment, most jurisdictions in the United States (municipal, state, and federal) do not allow the plaintiff to be the individual who performs the ritual.

And why?

The plaintiff has a dog in the fight.

He is not a good witness for either party in the event that the sufficiency of service of process becomes an issue as the civil case proceeds through its initial phases.

Who Can Serve The Defendant If The Plaintiff Cannot?

Each jurisdiction has its rules and laws about who can perform service.

But in general, aside from state specific requirements, the person doing the serving needs to be a person who is not already a party to the lawsuit.

Some statutes might contain a requirement that the person doing the serving be at least 18 years of age, or be a licensed private detective, or a professional process server.

While it is generally permissible for the plaintiff’s attorney to perform the service duty, most attorneys hire someone else to do it or use a member of their staff to avoid having to become a witness in the case at a later date.

Other states have no specific requirements, aside from making it clear that the plaintiff is prohibited from doing it.

Exceptions To The Requirement Of Service (Involving Plaintiff)

While the plaintiff cannot serve the defendant, the plaintiff and the defendant can come to an agreement about service.

The defendant can agree to allow the plaintiff to serve him the paperwork, and he usually does so by signing a waiver of the requirement of service of process pursuant to the applicable statute.

Again, this is not something the plaintiff can force on the defendant.

But this is a way that the plaintiff can get the documents to the defendant and avoid service problems.

Do You Have To Use Law Enforcement or the Sheriff To Serve Your Paperwork?

As noted above, the service requirements of each jurisdiction vary.

But in general, most statutes provide a broad range of options for service of process, in which the sheriff is an included option.

But it is rare for the sheriff to be the only option for service.

Why Use The Sheriff To Serve Paperwork?

Attorneys tend to use professional process servers and law enforcement to serve paperwork, rather than relying upon paralegals or other staff members.

There are several reasons.

First, serving paperwork is not always a safe activity.

Sometimes the individuals being served are not polite to the process server.

They are less likely to commit outrageous acts in the presence of someone who can arrest them for it.

Second, people are more likely to take the paperwork from the sheriff, while they might refuse to come to the door to meet a process server or staff member dressed in plain clothes.

Third, the sheriff is the best kind of witness in the event that there is a challenge to the service of process.

A sworn law enforcement officer is more likely to be believed in court than a random individual who might also be involved in the case in some way (though not a named party).

Wrap Up

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Can a Plaintiff Serve a Defendant