Understanding Drop Serves
- May 13, 2021
- by Stephanie Irvine
In the process serving industry, there are a number of ways in which a process server can effectuate service. While personal service is the most common (and most preferred by the courts), Process servers occasionally find themselves in a position in which they have identified the individual to be served, but that person won’t accept the documents. What does a process server do? How do they complete the job? In some cases, drop service will work. But before a server uses drop service, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Learn more about drop serves and when you can use this tactic below.
What is a drop serve?
Drop service is quite literally when the papers are placed at the feet of an individual to be served, especially in cases in which the defendant refuses to accept the service. This type of service is sometimes called “service by refusal,” but it should not be confused with other types of service, such as posting or publication.
One discrepancy that New York process server Jacqueline Leah Balikowski noted is that sometimes servers think that they can tape the service to the door and have it work as drop service. She advised, “Tape is not drop — it's actually another type of service. Drop is personal delivery. Drop, announce, and move on. No tape.” Similarly, process server Simon Rolfe also advised, “And remember kids, a 'nail and bail' is not a drop service.”
While some may be uncertain as to exactly what “drop service” means, it is clearly spelled out in Spector vs. Berman: “The defendant refused to open the doors, although he conversed with the process server, who told him that he was putting the process through the mail slot. The defendant's conduct was of the affirmative evasive character condemned in McDonald v. Ames Supply Co. (supra), and it is clear that he was engaged in a deliberate course of evasion intended to frustrate resolution of the legal dispute the plaintiff was attempting to initiate. The defendant did not acquire an immunity from the Bossuk principle simply because there were two doors and some steps involved. We conclude, as Special Term did, that service was properly made. Lazer, J.P., Rubin, Lawrence and Kooper, JJ., concur.” For the purposes of this article, this is the definition of drop service that we will be focusing on.
When can a server drop serve?
It is important for all process servers to be cognizant of the specific laws and rules that apply locally and in their state or territory as drop service is prohibited in some areas. Drop service, although utilized by process servers all over the country at some point in their career, is not something that is considered a standard, regular type of service in all states in the United States or around the world. In hearing from different process servers, it becomes very apparent how varied the rules are.
Process server Simon Rolfe explains, “Despite what some may think 'drop service' or a 'drop serve' at least in our firm's experience, is not all that common. So ahead of discussing this type of situation, one should realize that we each work in different jurisdictions and the rules may also vary from location to location. In Ontario, Canada, where our firm At Your Service is located, drop service is acceptable as a legitimate service method; however, if you should find yourself with a drop serve service, your affidavit of service should be extremely well-detailed and backed by a number of 'exhibits,' each strengthening the points detailed in your affidavit. Body cam footage, photos, and witness collaboration of facts are all ideal in fortifying the details in your affidavit. Here, a target does not have to accept documents or touch the documents to affect the service; merely, [the target should] be aware that we were there to deliver the documents in person. If they refuse service, we simply drop the documents at their feet, snap a photo, and then leave the site/location.”
This sentiment regarding the regularity was echoed by a United States process server Ron Link, who serves in Florida: “Drop service is the last resort. Frowned upon unless [there is a] good reason.” He also advised that being served personally meant being “served in the hand of the individual named in the paperwork.”
With that said, servers in other states disagreed, acknowledging that in some areas, drop service is as good as personal service. Steve Hutson, who serves out of California, explained, “In hand, at their feet, it's personal service either way.”
Similarly, Server Christian Jeffery of ASAP Process & Courier out of Charlottesville, Virginia advised: “Drop service is just personal service or substitute service. There is no reason to mention to anyone that it was ‘drop served.’ If you positively ID the person you are serving and they do not want to touch the papers, they are still served! We treat it like any other serve.”
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Tony Easterling out of California offered that there are certain types of serves in which drop service is allowed. He further added that “Drop serves are my favorite [along with] small claims. No fuss. When making a drop serve, get the name and description of the person you handed the documents to, the time, and address. Of course, if there is no one available to take the documents, make sure to get a picture, time, and address, and the reason the documents were left.” Easterling also acknowledged that if no one is there to physically accept the documents, or if the facility is closed, that he is able to drop serve the documents. This differed drastically from the experiences that process servers in other states were used to having, as many servers work with the definition that a drop serve means that the individual to be served walks away without taking the documents.
Process server Chris Wilkinson offered that “you should also note that drop service isn't ok for debt collection or Federal service.”
Despite any process server’s personal experience, it is always up to the process server to conduct due diligence and ensure what is legally allowed in their state. In areas where drop service is legally allowed, a process server should take care to heed the client and judge’s requirements, as not following those will surely result in bad service.
What NOT to do
Although process service is overtly dramatized on TV or in movies, the best practices do not involve dramatically throwing legal documents at an individual to be served. Process server Joseph Reeves offered an excellent tip that protects the server and could prevent legal issues — both for the serve itself and for the process server: “Take care to only place the papers on the ground in front of the respondent in plain view. No need to toss the papers or attempt to touch the respondent. That could result in an assault charge. Also, when leaving the area keep the respondent in view, i.e. don't turn your back on him/her.”
Process server Gloria Walton Miller cautioned process servers when making drop serves: “You lay the papers down and let them know you are leaving the papers. Don’t fling them across the fence or on the hood of their car or into their car! Think about damage and assault!”
Process servers should take care to not leave out the fact that service ended up as a drop serve on the affidavit. ROC Paper Service advised, “Make sure you add your notes to the affidavit itself ... a "drop serve" without a good story behind it probably is more likely to get tossed out than one where the Judge can ask the Respondent, ‘Did you really tell the process server that he'd better get off your porch before you come out swinging’?” By providing a solid affidavit, process servers can avoid having their service challenged in court, which could impact their reputation as a quality server if their service is quashed.
At the end of the day, process servers should directly heed the judge’s orders, as process server Steele Shepherd advised: “Read what the order is from the judge and only do that.”
Tips to keep in mind
Drop service is a type of service that is both loved and loathed by process servers. While it might be easy to drop serve an individual, there could be potential problems down the road, causing a headache for servers. Problems could include not having enough information for the client resulting in having service challenged, or even worse, deemed improper, which could be detrimental to a process server’s business.
As process server Mark Rauss cautioned, “First and foremost make sure that your locality allows this type of service. If you receive a paper from out of state and are not sure about that state’s rules, ask the sender. Beyond that, documentation is important, so make sure you note what happened; descriptions, etc. This type of service is likely the most challenged.”
Positive identification is critical, and the court will want to verify how the server knew they drop-served the right individual. Process server Ron Link offered, “Here in Florida, you have to see the person inside and identify him as the person or spouse of the person you are trying to serve. Facebook is a great tool to get pictures before you attempt.” This advice was echoed by other process servers, especially since many people willingly share pictures of themselves on social media.
A server from ROC Paper Service also encouraged, “GPS date and time-stamped photos are SOP [standard operating procedure]!”
Process servers from all over the country sounded off on this topic, offering solid advice to new servers who might be inexperienced with this type of serve. Process server Mary-Margaret O'Brien explained how she handles drop serves, saying, “If we have a photo of the subject and they deny who they are and refuse to take the papers, we'll do a ‘drop,’ announce service and include the info in the proof. If [we have] no photo, but the person matches the description of the subject and refuses to take the papers, then we say, ‘Unless you can show an ID that says you're NOT John Doe, we've been instructed to leave the papers with you!’ Then we prove it as a ‘John Doe, co-occupant’ service.”
Process server Julie Schneck also advised process servers to always keep in mind the basics. She explained that process servers should take extra care: “Making sure it is accepted as good service in your state is first and foremost. Making sure to identify the person or that they live there. Always advise they are being drop served.”
Ensuring that the subject to be served is aware of the drop service seemed to be a common theme among the advice given by experienced process servers. Process server Jeff Brueggeman gave the following tip: “Take a picture of the drop serve if you can. Not always possible. Sometimes they get upset and you must leave quickly. By the way, I always inform the party that they have been served when I do a drop serve. Nicely, but I tell them.”
Server William Edward Hampton echoed the same sentiment: “Always let them know.” in reference to advising an individual who is being served by drop service that they have been officially served.
Other process servers concurred with this advice but also encouraged the use of technology. Process server Chris Wilkinson affirmed that “A body cam eliminates that problem” in reference to having someone not be aware that they are being drop served. The body camera captures the event including the verbal exchange, which is crucial in the event service is challenged.
Finally, Wyllymae Williams offered that a “Detailed affidavit should accompany a drop serve, even if you don't file it back with the court. Or keep a copy in case it's questioned”
Overall, it’s clear that process servers should always:
- Ensure drop service is an acceptable method of service according to the rules in their specific location.
- Conduct due diligence to ensure that the right person is being served.
- Advise the individual that they are being served by the method of drop service.
- Utilize technology such as body cameras, photos, and GPS to capture visual/geographical evidence of the serve.
- Create a detailed service affidavit that includes all of the details needed to confirm the individual (description thereof), date and time, whereabouts, and other pertinent details about the location and effectuation of service.
Want to learn more?
If you’re new to civil process service and want to learn more, be sure to check into the Server Center to read more articles about how to become a process server.