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How to serve someone in California

Updated February 16th 2022

5 min read

You can never serve someone that you're suing. Instead, hire a professional server or have your friend help out. While there are other options, they are worse.

How to serve someone in California

How to serve someone in California

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Thomas C.

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Dispute is the easiest & most accurate small claims platform with affordable ways to resolve every dispute.

Table of contents

The second you file your lawsuit with the courthouse, the clock starts ticking for when you need to notify the people you’re suing. If you don’t meet the deadlines or do it properly, your case can be dismissed or rescheduled.

The method for proper notification is called service of process. It involves providing the right person with the right notice at the right time and filing proof of service (SC-104) with the court.

You cannot notify the people you’re suing yourself. You must use one of the following:

  • A professional server (the best option) and one that lets you skip this article
  • A friend, at least 18, who is not involved with the case (the cheapest),
  • A sheriff
  • Certified mail sent by the county clerk (the worst)

You must give them at least 15 days of notice before your court date. If they live or do business primarily outside the county, you must give them 20 days of notice before your court date.

Although it may seem like a good idea to give them as little notice as possible, you want to start the process early enough that you can try several times. Try serving them at least two weeks before your deadline.

How do you serve someone in person?

  1. Confirm their identity. If possible, have the person you’re serving verbally confirm their name, but if you know its them for certain, then you can skip this step.
  2. Give them all the court papers (their copy of the five pages of the SC-100 and their copy of any additional forms, such as the SC-100A or SC-103.)
  3. Say that they are court papers. Make sure a reasonable person would hear you.
  4. If they don’t accept them, you can place them nearby.
  5. Fill out and sign the proof of service (form SC-104.)
  6. Submit the proof of service (Form SC-104) to the court where you will have your hearing.

How do you fill out and file proof of service (Form SC-104)?

The first thing to know is that there’s a deadline. You must file proof of service with the court at least 5 days before the trial.

If you’re sending the completed form by mail, it must arrive at the court 5 days before the hearing. If it’s the last day, go to the court in person. You can always drop it off at the court drop-box (but if so, make sure it’s in an envelope addressed to the court.)

How do I fill out the first page?

The first page has 4 sections that you will need to fill out. Two of them are numbered, and two of them are unnumbered. The unnumbered sections you will need to fill out are the bottom two (of the three) boxes in the top-right corner.

First, you should fill out the two unnumbered sections.

Fill out the first unnumbered section

The first of the sections you will fill out is the second of the three boxes. It’s titled, ‘Superior Court of California, County of.’ The box at the very top (not the middle one, which we’re about to do) is for the court clerk, so ignore it.

Begin this section by writing the name of the county where you have already filed.

On the following line, write the name of the courthouse.

Now write the street address.

On the fourth and final line, write the city, state, and zip code.

Here’s an example:

Alameda

René C. Davidson Alameda County Courthouse

1225 Fallon Street

Oakland, California 94612

Fill out the second unnumbered section

This section is still on the first page, but it’s the bottom of the three boxes in the top right. You’ll need to refer to your copy of the SC-100 form you filled out to first give to the courthouse.

They’ll have given it back to you, or mailed you a copy, with the:

  • Case Number
  • Case Name
  • Hearing Date
  • Hearing Time
  • Department

Carefully write these down on the new form in the designated boxes.

Fill out Section 1

Section 1 is to the left of the box you just filled out.

If you’re serving a person, just fill out part A with the person’s full legal name. Make sure it’s identical to the SC-100 form you already filled out.

If you’re serving a business entity, write the name of the business on the first line. On the second line, write the specific person you served at the company you’re suing and their title. Remember, you can only sue managers and officers of a company.

Fill out Section 3

Check Box A unless you’re serving someone for a counter-lawsuit. In that case, where you or your friend was sued first, check Box B. Remember, no one who is suing or being sued can act as the server for their own case.

Move on to the second page.

On the top of the page, fill out the case name and case number with the same information you used for the bottom of the three boxes on the first page.

Fill out Section 4.

You should check Box A. If the server could not give the court papers to the person you’re suing, look up how substitute-service works. It requires several documented and diligent attempts at different times and addresses. If your friend can’t successfully serve the person you’re suing, you should hire a professional process server.

For the date of your successful attempt, fill out the:

  • Date
  • Time
  • Address where your server successfully served them (this is not necessarily their home or work address)

Fill out Section 5.

The server should fill out their personal information, including their:

  • Name
  • Phone
  • Address
  • City
  • State
  • Zipcode

Only have them fill out the fee for service section if they are a professional process server. Buying your friend a beer or a pizza for their help doesn’t count.

Have the server fill out and sign Section 6.

They’ll need to:

  • Fill out the date they signed the form (not necessarily the date they served the defendant)
  • Write their name in print (not cursive)
  • Legibly sign

By doing this, your server submits themselves to potential perjury charges if they lied on the form. Be sure everything they write is truthful.

Serve the other party with Dispute today. Get back the money you deserve.

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