Confusion about how service of process works has led to countless Default Judgments. Service of Process is a constitutional requirement that is designed to provide notice of a pending lawsuit. In Tennessee State Court Service of Process is generally governed by Tennessee Code of Civil Procedure Rule 4.04. In Federal Court it is generally governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 4(e). There are many ways a person can be served but the two most common are by Personal Service and by Substitute Service.
Personal Service is just as it sounds. A process server hands the summons and complaint to the person to be served. Substitute Service occurs when a process server cannot find the person to be served so they go to that person’s “dwelling house or usual place of abode” and hands the summons and complaint to a person living there that is of “suitable age and discretion.”
The problem with substitute service comes in two forms. First, when the person who is to be served no longer lives where substitute of service takes place. Second, when the person to be served knows of the lawsuit because the summons and complaint was given to a person they live with but believes they were not served because the summons and complaint was not handed to them personally. In both circumstances, the Plaintiff will file proof of service and a default and Default Judgment will soon follow. Under the first scenario a motion can be filed to set aside the Default and Default Judgment. For the second, nothing can be done. A good general rule of thumb is if you know about the lawsuit you respond to it; regardless of whether you believe you were properly served or not.
Lawsuits, Service of Process, and Default Judgments in any Court are tricky and require a lawyer if success is at all a concern. Contact our office right away if you are sued in any Court in Tennessee. We can help.