personal service

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Personal service refers to the in-person delivery of notice to a defendant. It is one of the many different ways of serving a defendant, which is required to establish jurisdiction over said defendant. Like service of process as a whole, personal service may be waived at the request of the plaintiff and at the agreement of the defendant (see FRCP Rule 4d). In addition, personal service is not always required, such as in in-rem and quasi-in-rem actions which generally do not necessitate personal service. In some states, like California, plaintiffs can substitute personal service by leaving a copy at the person’s “dwelling house, usually place of abode, [or] usual place of business.” This is known as substituted service and can only be used after “reasonable diligence” in attempting personal service, meaning that the plaintiff must show that he or she has made a good faith attempt at personal service but the summons cannot be personally delivered to the defendant with reasonable diligence. 

Personal service within a jurisdiction is void if it was obtained by fraud, deceit, or illegal means. For example, when a defendant was enticed to enter a jurisdiction for the purposes of discussing a settlement but was instead served, the personal service of summons on him was not valid. 

[Last updated in August of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]