Have I Been Served by the Sheriff?

When the sheriff has dropped a summons and complaint with your housekeeper, you have probably been legally served. In most states, an individual is considered to have been served if the papers are delivered to somebody in the household who is of adult age and who is at the last known address of the individual being served.

Courts believe that legal service shouldn’t be a game to see whether a process server has to deliver the summons and complaint directly into the hands of the defendant and announce dramatically “You’ve been served!”.

Instead, the court is likely to inquire whether the service is reasonably likely to alert the defendant that there’s been an action or a proceeding filed against them. And if so, then the defendant knows that they need to take steps to protect their legal rights. The court can then reach a decision based upon the merits.

People frequently try to evade service. If so, attorneys may need to file affidavits from the process server who the defendant is evading. The court may then enter an order saying that all the plaintiff’s lawyer must do is to send a mailing and post the papers at the person’s last known address. That person will be determined to have been served even if the sheriff never puts the papers directly in that person’s hands.