When filing a civil lawsuit in the state of Florida, initial service of process on the defendants named in the lawsuit is critical in order to confer jurisdiction on the courts. The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure and Florida Statutes govern who may serve process upon whom and how service of process may be perfected. See Rule 1.791, Fla. R. of Civ. P. and Chapters 48 and 49 of the Florida Statutes. Without perfecting service of process on the parties, the court lacks personal jurisdiction or authority over the parties and therefore lacks the authority to enter judgment. There are various forms of service, including personal or individual service, substitute service, and constructive service. Personal and substitute service give the Court personal jurisdiction over the parties who have been served, while constructive service gives the court in rem jurisdiction, over something such as property, rather than someone.
So what happens when a person attempts to avoid service of process? Can the court obtain jurisdiction over that person? As one might expect, the answer is, it depends. The statutes and rules regarding service of process must be strictly adhered to in order to perfect service on an individual. Florida Statute 48.031 (1) (a) states as follows:
Service of original process is made by delivering a copy of it to the person to be served with a copy of the complaint, petition, or other initial pleading or paper or by leaving the copies at his or her usual place of abode with any person residing therein who is 15 years of age or older and informing the person of their contents. Minors who are or have been married shall be served as provided in this section.
Interesting situations and questions of law can arise when individuals attempt to avoid being served. If a deputy or process server finds a defendant to be at home, but that person refuses to answer the door or attempts to hide, then at least one court has held that service of process was sufficient when the deputy “…read the summons in a loud voice and announced that he was leaving a copy of the summons and complaint on the doorstep for Mr. Haney and another copy with Mr. Haney as service on his wife.” Olin Corp. v Haney, 245 So.2d 669 (Fla. 4th DCA 1971). In that case, the deputy attempting to serve the defendants had observed Mrs. Haney leave the house and Mr. Haney remained in the doorway. When the deputy identified himself, Mrs. Haney ran into the house in an apparent attempt to avoid service.
The point is that in order for the court to have the authority to proceed with a civil case in Florida, service of process must be perfected. The experienced collections attorneys at Wetherington Hamilton know how to handle this issue, even when a defendant is attempting to avoid service.