The State of California requires service of process in all civil court actions. If service of process cannot be completed properly, a lawsuit stalls. Service of process is the delivery of court papers to the defendant.
The law requires proof of service because a defendant has the right to present his side of any dispute in court, so he must be informed of the suit. A judge cannot enter any permanent orders or judgments until the plaintiff proves proper service.

Process Server Explaining Services to Clients

Service is required by law.

A professional process server must be employed to properly complete the service process. A party to the lawsuit cannot deliver process papers themselves. California law requires process service in any civil action against a person, partnership, corporation, or governmental entity.

Government & Business

In cases against businesses, the process server serves the papers to either the owner, a partner, an officer of the corporation, or the business’s agent of service. Lawsuits against cities require service to the city clerk or the city’s agent of service. Suits against counties go to the county clerk and suits against The State of California are served to the Attorney General; however, Caltrans must be served directly.

Valid Service

For service to considered valid, the process server must identify the party receiving service, hand them the papers, and complete a proof of service, which describes where, when, and how the papers were served. If a party receiving personal service refuses the papers, the server can leave them on the ground and service is considered valid. Service is also valid if the party receiving service destroys the papers.

There are several avenues of service.

The process of hand delivering a court summons is known as personal service. Courts require personal service in many cases, especially for the first papers in a court case that inform the defendant of the suit.

Service by Mail

Professional process servers follow legally required protocols in order to provide the court with valid proof of service that the defendant has no grounds to challenge.
Mail service is an option in certain situations. It is generally used for serving papers to the other side while a lawsuit is ongoing rather than the initial papers. Once the papers have been mailed, the server completes the Proof of Service.


Serving an individual can sometimes be more complicated. Unlike businesses, individuals usually have no agent of service and no office staffed by people authorized to accept service. Most individuals receive service at their homes. If they have no known home address or serving them at home proves impractical, they may be served at their place of work. A person may also be served on the street or in a public place like a coffee shop, shopping mall, or bus station.

No known location…no problem.

In cases where a target of service cannot be located, there are many options for completing proper service. Substituted service is where papers are left with a person over 18 years of age at the target’s residence. Courts can also grant service by publication under certain conditions.

Most often, those filing suits know the location of the person to be served, but if not, the courts offer litigants some leeway. Generally, these options are only available if the other, more reliable forms of service, are impossible. Courts require strict procedures be followed for process service.