How to Deliver a Court Summons Out of State

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A summons alerts a defendant that he has been named a party to a lawsuit. In civil matters, a summons is often attached to the complaint with which a defendant is formally served. However, service of summonses is complicated when a defendant resides out of state or if a defendant leaves the state. To serve a defendant out of state, you must follow the rules of civil procedure for both the state in which the matter pends and the state in which service is to be effected.

  • Confirm allowable forms of service either by consulting the rules of civil procedure in the state in which the matter pends and the state in which service is requested or by contacting the clerk's office of the court in which the matter pends. The clerk's office will advise you of legal options for service. The rules of civil procedure regarding legal forms of service vary depending on state. However, most states allow out-of-state service to be effected in various ways so that named defendants are not protected from lawsuits in other states.

  • Determine whether the summons is to be served on an individual or on a business or corporation.

  • Serve an individual with a summons via certified mail or process server. A process server must be licensed in the state in which service will be effected.

  • Serve a business or corporation out of state by serving (via certified mail) that state’s corporation commission or a registered agent in the other state. A registered agent is a person licensed on behalf of a business or corporation to receive official documents, such as summonses and subpoenas. If no registered agent exists, you can serve the state’s corporation commission, which acts as a registered agent on behalf of all businesses in that state. The registered agent or the state corporation is legally obligated to forward documents (in this case, the summons) to the defendant.

  • Return the receipt of mail delivery to the court, if the defendant is served via certified mail. Or, submit the return of service to the court, if the defendant is served via process server licensed by the other state. The return of service is simply the document used by process servers to verify service. When the defendant is served, he may sign the document, but a signature of the served party is not required to confirm service. Only the process server’s signature is required.

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