Service by publication is a substitute delivery of litigation documents to give the opposing litigant notice of the suit against them by publishing the documents in an advertisement or in a newspaper of general circulation. Service by publication may be used to attempt to notify a defendant who is intentionally absent, in hiding, or at an unknown address.
Courts are very hesitant to allow service by publication and will often require a reasonable basis to believe that the defendant could not be served with more conventional methods. For example, in Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank Trust, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that service by publication did not violate procedural due process where a trustee notified dispersed trust beneficiaries, for whom the trustee had no address, through a New York newspaper of their opportunity to challenge the trustee’s management of the trust or otherwise waive their claim. Service by publication may also be acceptable in a divorce action to serve a spouse who has disappeared without leaving a forwarding address, or to give notice to people who might have a quiet title action against the owner of real property.
[Last updated in April of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]