• Service of process is not a one-size-fits-all procedure in Florida; it varies by the type of the case and litigant
  • There are more than 20 different types of service of process that must be followed depending on the circumstances
  • Failing to follow the proper procedures can have disastrous effects on a case, even invalidating the final judgment

Introduction

While many legal professionals refer to service of process as one ubiquitous procedure, there are in fact many varieties of process under Florida’s laws. The types of process can vary by the form of legal action, but this article focuses primarily on the ways procedures vary based on the type of defendant in an ordinary civil action.   

There are More than 20 Types of Service of Process in Florida

In Florida, service of process is required by Chapter 48, Florida Statues. Chapter 48 is like a process server’s handbook because it sets forth all of the things they must do to affect service which will survive judicial scrutiny. These procedures are extremely important to follow because delivering process in the wrong manner can invalidate the process and throw a major, if not fatal, wrench in the case.

Chapter 48 contains more than 20 different kinds of process which come into play depending on the type of the person being served. These categories include, but obviously are not limited to, service on minors, individuals, corporations, other business entities, public agencies, and even nonresidents operating a boat in the state.

With so many different rules, there is a lot that can go wrong. That is why we study these rules so closely at PPS, and you should too. For purposes of brevity, we won’t be covering all 20+ types of service, but you can rest assured that we have done our homework on each type. 

The Major Types of Service of Process to Know

Individual Service of Process. Service on a natural person (a human being), is the most basic and common type of service of process. It is governed by § 48.031, Fla. Stat., which requires Service of original process be 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.  Beyond that, the basic requirements of service are explained in greater detail in our last article, found: here.

Service on a Corporation. The next most common variety is service on a corporation, which is governed by § 48.081, Fla. Stat.  There are several options here. First, the “registered agent” can be served at the designated address. In order to locate the registered agent and their address, litigants must reference the Secretary of State’s website and do a business search. In the absence of this agent (even if temporary), any employee of the registered agent can be served during the first attempt at service. A server may also deliver process to the president or other head of the corporation, or in their absence, lower officers within the chain of command. 

Service on a Limited Liability Company. Service on an LLC is governed by § 48.062, Fla. Stat. and is similar to service on a corporation (but has peculiarities). It can be delivered to the company’s registered agent or any employee of that agent. If the company has no registered agent, or the agent cannot be located with reasonable diligence, service can then be made on member or manager, depending on the management structure of the LLC. If a member or manager is not available during business hours, and a first attempt has been made, service can then be made on the person in charge of the LLC during regular business hours. If none of that works, the Secretary of State can be served in lieu of the LLC.

Service on an Insurer (designated statutory agent). Pursuant to § 48.151(1), Fla. Stat. all authorized insurers (insurance companies) registered to do business in the state of Florida are required to designate the Chief Financial Officer of Florida as their Statutory Registered Agent for Service of Process. These processes (summons and complaint or subpoenas) may be delivered to the Department by personal service, U.S. mail, or via the e-portal. More specific details for service are provided here by Florida’s Chief Financial Officer.

Service on a Tenant (in eviction proceedings). Service on a tenant must be attempted at least twice in person. If the tenant cannot be found in the county or there is no person 15 years of age or older residing at the tenant’s usual place of abode, the summons may be served by attaching a copy to a conspicuous place on the property. The minimum time delay between the two attempts is 6 hours. If serving by posting, the landlord must provide the clerk of the court with an additional copy of the complaint and a prestamped envelope addressed to the defendant at the property. The clerk will mail the summons and file a certificate of mailing. Service is effective on the date of posting or mailing, whichever occurs later, and at least 5 days must elapse from the date of service before a judgment for final removal can be entered.

The Ramifications of Improper Service of Process in FL

Ineffective service of process (i.e. failure to follow the procedures) can have disastrous results for a case. Typically, where a finding of ineffective service of process is made, Florida courts will hold they lacked jurisdiction over the person of the defendant and rule that a final judgment which they previously rendered is void ab initio. Outler v. Berman, 234 So. 2d 724, 724 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1970).

A judgment that is void because of a lack of jurisdiction over a defendant may be set aside or vacated at any time. Gay v. McCaughan, Fla.1958, 105 So.2d 771; Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.540(b)(4). Thus, the case essentially has to start all over from the beginning following effective service of process. This can mean tens of thousands of dollars waisted in attorneys fees, or more in some circumstances.

Bringing it All Together

There are dozens of different types of procedures to be followed in Florida for various types of service of process. Each of these procedures are set by statute and must be closely followed in order to deliver effective service of process. Failure to follow the procedures can have disastrous effects on the case for private litigants, even invalidating an entire case. Therefore, litigants must make sure they understand these procedures and use a process server that understands them as well.  

If you are looking for a qualified process server in Jacksonville or have any questions, Palma Process Servers is standing by to deliver your documents.

Authors Note: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.