Laws Pertaining to Process Serving in California
415.20 (b) of the California Civil Code Of Procedure states:
If a copy of the summons and complaint
cannot with reasonable diligence be personally delivered to the person
to be served, as specified in Section 416.60, 416.70, 416.80, or 416.90,
a summons may be served by leaving a copy of the summons and complaint
at the person's dwelling house, usual place of abode, usual place of
business, or usual mailing address other than a United States Postal
Service post office box, in the presence of a competent member of the
household or a person apparently in charge of his or her office, place
of business, or usual mailing address other than a United States Postal
Service post office box, at least 18 years of age, who shall be informed
of the contents thereof, and by thereafter mailing a copy of the summons
and of the complaint by first-class mail, postage prepaid to the person
to be served at the place where a copy of the summons and complaint were
left. Service of a summons in this manner is deemed complete on the 10th
day after the mailing.
Process servers understand “dwelling house” or “usual place of abode” to
mean the actual location where the person is currently living. In
practice, it means the person’s official residence or where he or she is
currently staying. Most courts seem to consider the “dwelling house” to
be where the person is currently staying and the “usual place of abode”
to be the person’s permanent residence. For example, a person may live
with his parents but be currently away at school in a dormitory. The
dormitory would be his dwelling house and his usual place of abode would
be his parents’ home. He may return home on vacation and school breaks.
He may plan to return home permanently after he finishes school. The
same applies to a person currently away for treatment at a medical
center, on a business trip, on a vacation or retreat.
The phrase “usual place of business” can also mean different things. A
person working every day in an office on 7th Street would have that
address as her usual place of business. A doctor, however, might have
several different locations as his usual place of business: a hospital,
his office, and a mobile unit. A salesman working at different company
locations and a teacher working for more than one educational
institution might also be able to claim more than one usual place of
A person’s “usual mailing address,” with the exception of a U.S.P.S.
post office box, may consist of a private mailbox service or any other
definite location that he or she uses as a mailing address. The person
does not actually have to pick up or receive the mail at this address,
but the person must give this address as his or her mailing address. If
a process server is directed to send a person’s mail to a specific
address, the address can be considered the person’s usual mailing
address. The server has no way to verify whether the person is picking
up or receiving the mail at that address. To evade creditors, some
people will give out a mailing address but never pick the mail up.
A “competent member of the household” refers to any resident of the
household, not just family members. The phrase includes full-time
live-in nannies, maids, gardeners, friends, and partners. As long as a
person resides at the location full time, he or she is considered a
member of the household.
The phrase “person apparently in charge” does not mean, as a process
server might believe, a manager or officer of the mailing address or
business. The word “apparently” is important. For example, if a
receptionist will not allow the process server to see anyone else, the
receptionist is the highest person in charge that can be served. A clerk
who works at a mailbox service may be the only person apparently in
charge at the location.
When a complaint is served at a gated community or building where the
security guard will not allow entry, the security guard is deemed a
competent member of the household and his post the outer bounds of the
actual dwelling location. On May 28, 1992, in the case of Robert Bein vs
Bechtel-Jochim, the California Court Of Appeals affirmed that a guard
gate constitutes part of the dwelling and the guard is a competent
member within the dwelling. The court reasoned that when a process
server is not permitted to enter the actual residence, the outer bounds
of the dwelling place must be considered to extend to the location where
his or her progress was arrested.
The meaning of “reasonable diligence” is interpreted differently in
different jurisdictions. In general, however, at least three attempts
should be made at least eight hours apart. At least two of those
attempts should be made at the address where the papers are served. If
contact is still unsuccessful, a substituted service made on the fourth
attempt is usually considered valid.
The above does not constitute legal advice. It is given as general
information only and opinions formed over the years through the
experience of investigative agencies providing process serving services.
Although the information is believed to be correct, no guarantee is made
or implied as to its accuracy.
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