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Service of a Summons and Complaint  

Last Updated: May 31, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

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This guide is an introduction to the methods available for  service of a Summons and Complaint. It is not intended to be a comprehensive resource and is not intended as legal advice. You will need to conduct your own research.

Whom Do I Serve?

An individual defendant may receive service. CCP Section 416.90

A defendant may designate an agent to accept service, CCP Section 416.90

A minor defendant has different considerations. See Family Code Section 6500, and CCP Section 416.60

A prisoner can be served by way of the jailer or whomever has custody of the prisoner. See  Penal Code Section 4013. See CCP Section 416.90

For other entities, consult the LIbrary Resources listed in this Guides.


    General Info

    Service of a Summons and  Complaint has very specific procedural rules. It's important that you follow them. Improper service may result in the dismissal of your case.

    Except for Collection Cases filed under California Rules of Court, rule 3.740, within sixty days of the filing of the complaint, all Defendants must be served, and proofs of service filed showing service on the Defendants pursuant to California Rules of Court, rule 3.110.

    Any relief from the sixty day requirement must be by written application as set forth in Rule 3.110(e). Compliance with this rule will be reviewed at the initial Case Management Conference and plaintiff may be sanctioned at that time for any failure to timely serve all defendants unless good cause is shown.

    For exceptions to the personal service requirement, read the San Diego Superior Court Local Rules, rule 2.1.5 very carefully. It is very specific as to the due diligence requirements for attempts at personal service. We have provided information below on methods other than personal service, but do your research. The court is very particular about what will qualify as an exception to the personal service rule.


    Methods of Serving the Summons and Complaint

    Persons Who Can Serve the Summons & Complaint: any person 18 years or age or over not a party to the action may serve the summons and complaint. See California Code of Civil Procedure 414.10. The plaintiff may not serve the summons and complaint. You can use a friend or someone not a party to the action, or hire a professional process server or a sheriff.

    What Method Can I Use?

    The following are various means of serving the summons. Each has specific rules which must be followed. Failure to properly serve the summons can lead to the dimissal of your case.

    Personal Service: by personal delivery to the person served. CCP 415.10

    Substituted Service:if an individual defendant cannot be personally served after diligent attempts, substitue service may be made by leaving a copy of the summons and complaint with someone else at the defendant's dwelling house or other. CCP 415.20

    Service by Mail: a summons may be served by mail under certain circumstances. CCP 415.30

    Service by Publication: a summons may be served by publication in a named newspaper under certain circumstances.   CCP 415.50

    Please note: There are specific rules to serving Defendants who aren't natural adults, such as corporations, LLC's, partnerships, and government agencies. You'll want to do a little research in the CCP as to the proper location/person to serve. Generally, you can check with the California Secretary of State about corporations and other business entities.  Check govenment agency websites for procedural information on filing claims and related, and see our Guide on Writ of Mandamus and related, to make sure a Summons is the step you should take.


    Can I Serve Defendant Myself?

    Generally, no.

    Any person 18 year of age or over and not a party to the action may serve the summons and complaint ( CCP 414.10). The plaintiff may NOT serve the summons and complaint


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