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Are Process Servers Allowed to Question Neighbors?
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Good day, and welcome once again to the Metairie Process Servers podcast. I am your host, Louisiana process server Scott Frank, and today we will touch on a question that has come up many times before. Can process servers question the neighbors of the person they are trying to serve? Is this something that only should be done if the person the process server is looking for is being evasive? The answers to these questions are both a resounding “yes,” but that really is as far as a process server is supposed to pry with a third party. Now, let’s get right into the explanation for why this is an important, unspoken rule.

For the most part, when a process server is desperately trying to locate a person, it is considered perfectly ok for him or her to speak with a known neighbor to gauge his or her whereabouts. They can say that they are looking for that individual because they have to give them some legal paperwork, and that is legal, though it can be embarrassing. However, under no circumstance is it lawful to discuss the details of the lawsuit or why the person is being sued with a third party, such as a neighbor.

Most times, an average citizen will deduce that the lady or gentleman is a process server, even if the server did not identify his or herself. As process servers, we do not try to hide our identities, though we wouldn’t want to humiliate anyone either. We would only speak to neighbors just to get some idea about your schedule. If we are having an especially difficult time tracking you down at home, we would ask if perhaps you are on vacation, or if you work odd hours, or maybe where you work, if we don’t already know.

Another reason we err on the side of discretion is because we can’t always be sure that the neighbors are not expecting us. Perhaps they know about the lawsuit, and they will tip off the person we are looking for, making it even harder to find him or her. Of course, the neighbor doesn’t necessarily have to be a part of the deception. He or she can casually mention our discussion to a defendant that will then go underground.

One thing that I have been asked about lately is whether or not a neighbor can be served in place of a defendant, as, say, a proxy. This is ludicrous. That means that effectual service would be completely dependent upon trusting a third party with sensitive information and then expecting him or her to timely deliver the summons and paperwork to the intended defendant. Why would any process server worth his or her salt do such a thing?

Believe it or not, this actually happened to a gentleman in New York City that recently posted about his dilemma on Reddit. He says that his neighbor in an apartment building was being served for a purpose that he was unaware of. He learned about this when he heard intense knocking on the door across the hall and got up to make sure all was well by checking through the peephole. Everything seemed fine, and the knocking soon stopped. He went back to his book and before he could even sit down, there was a loud knock on his door. Curious, and having nothing to hide, he answered the door.

He states that a plains-clothes person asked him a series of questions about the man that lived across the hall. He was worldly, so he asked the man if his intent was to serve his neighbor legal paperwork. The man denied this, and told him that it was instead a family telegram that he had, and asked the oblivious neighbor if he could leave it with him to give to the man across the hall at a later time.

Knowing his neighbor pretty well, the writer agrees because he could never picture a person that led his neighbor’s type of life as one to get into trouble. Believing the lie, the man realized that he was actually served a summons and lawsuit intended for his neighbor. He feared giving the paperwork to his neighbor because he didn’t want the man to be obligated to appear in court. At the same time, he did not want to be involved, so he asked advice from other readers. A few process servers and even attorneys responded.

Many folks stated that this is a case of nothing more than improper service at its worst. The process server will have to sign an affidavit of service, as well, which means that he must swear, under oath, that the papers were served to the intended recipient and it was done so in a lawful manner. Though this is a New York case, I can unequivocally say that I have never heard of a case like this because it is far from legal here in Louisiana as well.

Some others rebutted and said that whether or not the service was proper, the man across the hall should have the knowledge of a pending case, and should just face the music rather than push the issue of ineffective service. He would only be delaying the inevitable.

That is true if the neighbor tells him about the summons, however, if the neighbor does not tell him about the paperwork, he can miss his hearing and face a default judgment. I believe that he should raise the issue of ineffectual service in order to overturn such a judgment, if that were to occur.

Now, if the motion to overturn a default judgment for the plaintiff is granted, it does not mean that the lawsuit will be dismissed. It merely means that the defendant will be served again, this time properly, and will be given the opportunity to defend himself. In the end, he will actually get more time to prepare and that works to his advantage. So, the moral here is, “always hire a process server that knows and adheres to the law, or you may regret it!”

Like I said, it would never fly in Louisiana. Here there are only two types of service that are considered legal here, and those are personal service and domiciliary service. In some cases, one is acceptable while the other is not. A trained process server will know which one is considered proper at all times, however.

First of all, there is personal service, which is defined by paperwork that is delivered by a “proper officer” (in accordance with the statutes), to the person who is to be served. Personal service includes service at any place that the defendant can be found. This means not just home and work are fair game, but practically anywhere they are available physically. They could be in the park playing with their children and that is still feasible.

Domiciliary service is when the same proper officer leaves paperwork at the defendant’s principal residence, or domicile. There must be proof of the intent to reside in that dwelling in order for the service to be considered proper. This means it should be listed on one’s driver’s license, utility bills, and voter registration. For the average citizen, this usually means his or her home address.

The paperwork cannot just be dumped in the mailbox or taped to the door. It must be handed to a person over 18 years old, or the local age of majority, and that person must reside at the address as well.

This may be where the confusion lies and neighbors are sometimes illegally served. This is especially true if the neighbor lives in a duplex or apartment building by the defendant. However, this is not considered the same residence.

Keep in mind, if you ever have the need to acquire the services of punctual, accurate, and experienced process servers in the Louisiana area, or even in bordering states, give us here at Metairie Process Servers,  a call, text, or email. Our direct number is 1-866-237-2853, or you can send us a quick note at info@metairie-process-servers.com.

So, that concludes our time together today. Be sure to check out the podcasts on our sister sites, www.baton-rouge-process-servers.com and www.lafayette-process-servers.com to learn the answers to even more of your process serving questions. Thanks for listening to us and we’ll see you next week for another informative episode.

The foregoing podcast has simply been presented for informational purposes only. Mr. Scott Frank and his staff at Lafayette  Process Servers LLC are not attorneys. Laws and regulations vary among states and specific jurisdictions. If you seek further information about this topic or any other legal issues, please contact an attorney or lawyer in your local area.

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