How to Serve a Defendant

In Maryland, in order to start a lawsuit, a plaintiff, the person bringing the lawsuit, must file a complaint with the Clerk of the Court and then serve the complaint to the opposing party.  (A complaint is a statement of facts and law that states what the case is about and what the plaintiff is seeking.)  After filing the complaint with the court, the complaint must be served on the opposing party to ensure the opposing party has a copy of the complaint and is on notice that they will be part of a trial.  Plaintiffs must comply with certain rules when serving a complaint. If the rules are not followed, the court will not have jurisdiction over the defendant and the plaintiff will not be successful in court.  (When an organization or government is the defendant, in general, service is made by serving the resident agent of the business or a particular government official.)

After a complaint is filed, the Clerk will issue a summons for each defendant and, as directed by the plaintiff, the Clerk will deliver it, together with a copy of each paper filed, to the sheriff, to the plaintiff, or mail it to the defendant by certified mail.  A summons is a notification to the person being sued (defendant) that a law suit has been filed.  

If the plaintiff elects to have the sheriff serve the opposing party, the plaintiff pays the Clerk of the Court for the cost of this service and the Clerk will have a sheriff deliver the papers to the opposing party.  As proof of service, the sheriff will send the Clerk “return of service” to prove the defendant was served.  Plaintiffs should call the Clerk to verify that the opposing party was served.

In addition, the plaintiff can have the Clerk send the plaintiff the Writ of Summons in the mail.  When this happens, the plaintiff can have a processing company, an adult over the age of 18, or the sheriff serve the complaint.  If a private processing company is hired to serve the defendant, the plaintiff would give the process server, a person whose job it is to serve parties, all the documents that need to be served (the complaint, the original copy of the Write of Summons, the case information report, and any accompanying documents) and have the process server fill out an Affidavit of Service once they deliver the papers to the opposing party. An Affidavit of Service is a document where the process server promises to the court that he delivered the required documents to the defendant.  The plaintiff must then file this affidavit and a copy of the Writ of Summons with the Clerk of the Court.   The plaintiff must also give the Clerk the name, address, and telephone number of the private process server. 

The plaintiff can also have an adult over the age of 18 and who is not a party to the case deliver the required documents directly to the other side.  While the third party cannot simply leave the documents at the opposing side’s doorstep, they can leave the documents with someone over the age of 18 that resides at the defendant’s home.  After serving the defendant, the third party must then complete an Affidavit of Service, which the plaintiff must file along with a copy of the Writ of Summons with the Clerk, just like if a private process servicer served the opposing party.  The third party can also send the necessary papers to the defendant by certified mail, restricted delivery, return receipt requested.  If the plaintiff chooses to use this form of service, an adult other than the plaintiff must mail the required documents (the complaint, the Write of Summons, and any accompanying documents) and then must complete an affidavit indicating that he or she mailed the necessary documents and the other side received them.  The Affidavit, the green receipt that is returned to the sender upon receipt by the defendant, and a copy of the Writ of Summons should be filed with the Clerk.  Service is only complete if the opposing party signs the green receipt.  If someone else signs for them, service is not complete.   If a plaintiff is unable to serve the opposing party, they can still go to the sheriff and have them serve the other party. 

Lastly, the plaintiff can have the court serve the defendant by certified mail. In this case, the court would mail the necessary documents to the defendant.  If the defendant does not receive the certified mail and a return receipt is not returned, then service was not sufficient for the court to gain jurisdiction over the defendant.  If this is the case, the plaintiff will need to find a new way to serve the defendant.

In all of these instances when a defendant has acted to evade service, the court may order that service be made by mail to the defendant’s last known residence and by delivering a copy to the defendant’s place of business.  If some instances, a plaintiff may have to try an alternative method, including posting a notice in a newspaper, to serve the opposing party. 

In general, if service is not completed within 60 days in circuit court or 30 days in district court, the plaintiff will have to ask the Clerk to issue a new Writ of Summons. If service of process cannot be made, the court must be notified as soon as practicable, but in no event, later than 10 days following the termination of the validity of the process.

If you have a question regarding any legal matter, contact Phillip Chalker by phone (443) 961-7345 or by email to schedule a free strategy session.  We will review the facts of you case and create a plan going forward.