“Have I been legally served or is the service invalid because it wasn’t a Deputy Sheriff that served the papers on me?”
Question: I was served with papers recently. The man who served me was not a Deputy Sheriff or wearing a uniform. I thought that only the Sheriff’s Office could serve people with civil papers. Have I been legally served or is the service invalid because it wasn’t a Deputy Sheriff that served the papers on me?
Answer: Rules regarding who may serve civil papers on an individual in Texas are governed by the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. The Supreme Court accepts application from individuals who would like to serve civil papers. The Supreme Court has stated that any person who is not a party to or interested in the outcome of a suit and who is certified under order of the Supreme Court of Texas to serve process may serve papers.
To be certified to serve process under Rules 103 and 536(a), Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, a person must file with the Clerk of the Supreme Court a sworn application. The application must contain a statement that the applicant has not been convicted of a felony or of a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude. The person must also file a criminal history record obtained within the preceding 90 days. Criminal history records are obtained from the Texas Department of Public Safety in Austin.
Law enforcement officers in Texas have the authority to serve civil process. In an area such as Dalhart, the Sheriff’s offices serve papers, and in larger cities both Sheriff’s offices and Constable’s offices may serve. But, they may not be the only entities serving. Texas law allows individuals to become private process servers.
To become a process server in Texas, an individual must comply with the application rules, file their criminal history record with their application, pay a fee and take an approved certification course. The courses that the Texas Supreme Court has approved may be found online. A fee is charged for the course as well.
The purpose for requiring an individual to become certified is because of the nature of the rules regarding service of process. Because invalidly serving papers could interfere with the legal case underlying the service of process, it is important for process servers to “get it right” when they serve papers. Once civil papers are served, for instance, the process server files an affidavit with the court that the lawsuit is pending in stating that service was achieved, right down to the exact time of service. Many rules exist allowing certain changes in the manner that service is required in Texas. The certification course that individuals take informs them of what those rules are, and where to access the rules in the future.
An example of a rule regarding service is that in Texas a person must be served in person, which means that they actually received the civil process themselves. There are numerous cases where a person cannot be served in person, such as they may not be located. The rules allow the process server, after a reasonable amount of service attempts at the last known addresses of the individual, to ask the court to allow the process server to leave the citation (process) with any individual over the age of 16 at the address where they are attempting service, or even to tack the citation to the front door. Other methods include publishing the citation in an area paper where the person being served may see the notice.
Any person who meets the requirement of the Texas Supreme Court for serving civil papers may do so, and they do not have to be a member of law enforcement, although it is not uncommon to see members of law enforcement serving civil papers in their off duty hours.
This article is meant for informational purposes only and not as a substitute for sound legal advice. Please direct questions to Ask the Lawyer to firstname.lastname@example.org or to The Dalhart Texan on Facebook.