By law, everyone is entitled to service of process for any case in which they are a party. However, in a recent report, it was found that more than six hundred eviction cases in Washington, D.C. proceeded with significant service of process errors over the course of just two months in 2019. These errors may have prevented tenants from availing themselves of their legal rights, forcing them into a precarious situation that could have been avoided if they were properly served.
Service of Process Requirements
In Washington, D.C., like New York and most jurisdictions in the country, the preferred form of service of process is personal service. This means spending time to track someone down in person, such as at their homes or businesses, and giving them notice by hand. While people are not always at their homes, the report found process servers could at least find someone at the home around 40% of the time.
The Supreme Court has ruled that completing appropriate service of process requires, at minimum, that a process server attempt to complete at least two in-person visits on two different days. Only if these two attempts fail can they say they have done their due diligence, and attempt other forms of serving process. Anything less does not meet the Constitutional standard for service of process.
For tenants facing eviction, getting proper service of process is an essential step in ensuring they can defend themselves against eviction. Although there is currently a federal moratorium on evictions that will last until December 31, as well as moratoriums in states like New York, many tenants will face eviction when those moratoriums expire. Without proper service of process, they will not know they are facing eviction, and may not seek legal counsel until it is too late to defend themselves.
The Problems That Were Uncovered
In this report, it was found that more than six hundred tenants facing eviction had not been appropriately served. As a result, they did not even know they were facing eviction until weeks or months later, after eviction proceedings had already gone ahead. In effect, these tenants were evicted without a chance to avail themselves of their legal rights.
Nearly all of these defective services could be traced back to just two process servers operating under an LLC that one of them owns. These two servers were only able to successfully complete service about 0.4% of the time. That abysmal success rate is about one-hundredth of the average success rate for typical process servers. This is particularly troubling, as these two process servers accounted for about 60% of all landlord-tenant summonses in Washington D.C.
The Consequences of Improper Service
As a result of this improper service in eviction cases, many tenants were not aware they were even facing eviction until long after their case had already proceeded. This lack of notice meant that crucial deadlines for filing motions and making court appearances came and went, limiting their legal options. As a result, many of these tenants faced eviction without a real opportunity to defend themselves from losing their homes.
However, as evidence of this ineffective service has arisen, more scrutiny has been placed on whether these tenants received proper notice of their evictions. The result is that many eviction cases that involved these process servers have been thrown out, or turned into protracted legal battles. And all of that trouble could have been avoided if they had just got process servers who got it right the first time.
The process servers at Nicoletti & Harris have provided service of process and litigation support for our clients since 1986, giving us the experience to handle the demands of the modern legal environment. We provide service for all areas of law, assisting clients throughout New York, New Jersey, and Florida. If you require a process server or other forms of litigation support, contact our New York office at (212) 267-6448, or you can contact our New Jersey office at (732) 677-3903, or you can visit our contact page.