a consumer is getting court papers served to him

Serving Court Papers

How to serve court papers on a person or business.

Serving Court Papers

Court forms are available at California Courts – Forms. Select “Small Claims” from the pull-down menu. Forms are also available at the Court Clerk’s office. Completed Sample Forms are available here. Starting September 2, 2021, all litigants in Small Claims Court can appear virtually or telephonically for FREE. Read the details from the court here

After filing your case, a copy of your Plaintiff’s Claim or Defendant’s Claim must be delivered to the person or business you are suing. Each person named must be served a copy of the claim. 

Your claim tells the other party that they are being sued and gives the date, time, and place of the hearing. You cannot serve the claim yourself. The only time you can serve court papers yourself is when you are serving a subpoena. 

Who can serve the claim? 

There are three ways to serve the claim: 

  1. Have the Sheriff in the courthouse closest to where the Defendant lives or works serve your claim. If the Defendant lives in another County, you must contact that County’s Sheriff Civil Process Unit to determine what their process is to serve court papers.  The Fee is $50 

When requesting the Sacramento Sheriff to serve the defendant, you must provide two copies of the court papers, a $50 check payable to the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department or a fee waiver, and the completed Sheriff’s Instruction Form. Court papers must be received by the Sheriff a minimum of 40 days before the court date because out of county service is 30 days and the Sheriff needs the papers at least 10 days prior to the last day of service. Additionally, the Sacramento Sheriff is now accepting serving court papers through e-filing. Get more info here.

  1. Hire a Registered Process Server. You can find one at www.napps.org. 
  2. You can have a friend or family member over the age of 18, and not a witness or involved in the case serve the papers for you.

How must the papers be served? 

There are two ways for a friend or family member to serve the claim: 

Personal Service: The claim is given to the person(s) you are suing. This must be done at least 15 days before the court date. If the person lives outside of Los Angeles County, they must be served at least 20 days before the court date. 

Substitute Service: The claim is given to someone over the age of 18, who lives with the person you are suing. A copy of the claim must also be sent by first class mail to the person you are suing at the address where the claim was given. 

With this type of service, the claim must be served at least 25 days before the court date. If they are served outside of Los Angeles County, this must be done at least 30 days before the court date. 

If the person you are suing has a private mailbox (not a U.S. post office box) the claim can be given to the person in charge of the private mailbox location. 

You cannot use substitute service when serving a Subpoena or serving someone a notice of a Judgment Debtor Hearing. 

Who must be served? 

When suing: 

  • An individual, serve the claim to the person. If suing a minor 12 years of age or older, serve the minor and the parent or guardian. If the minor is under the age of 12, only the parent or guardian must be served. 
  • A business, serve the claim to the owner or a person in charge. If you are suing a partnership under its business name, serve one of the partners. If you are suing a business AND its partners, serve each partner.  
  • A corporation, limited partnership, or limited liability company, serve the claim to the Agent for Service or an officer of the corporation.  The Agent for Service receives legal papers for the corporation. 
  • A rental property owner, serve the owner. If the owner cannot be found, serve the manager. 
  • A government agency. A California State Government Agency, serve the Attorney General’s Office, A Los Angeles County Agency, serve the Clerk of the Board, A City Agency, serve the City Clerk.

How do I prove the claim was served? 

If you used the Sheriff or a Registered Process Server they will file A Proof of Service with the court. If not, the person who served the court papers must fill out an SC 104 Proof of Service and file it with the clerk’s office at least five days before the court date. You can file the Proof of Service any one of three ways: 

  • In person 
  • By mail
  • Online 

Can a claim be served outside California? 

A claim must be served in California, except: 

  • For an auto accident that happened in California, when the registered owner or driver lives out-of-state. A copy of the claim also must be mailed to the California Department of Motor Vehicles; 
  • For a dispute involving real property located in California when the owner of that property lives out of state.

County of Los Angeles Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. Last change: January 18, 2024

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