• There are two work products a process server can deliver: a “Return of Service” and a “Return of Non-Service”
  • The first one is filed by the server if it is successful; the second is filed if the server cannot find the defendant
  • After exhausting attempts at personal service, a litigant can typically attempt service by publication

Introduction

There are two results that can come from attempts at service of process in Florida: successful service and unsuccessful service. The one that happens will dictate what the process server will have to file with the court, and what the litigants will have to do. In this article, we will dive deep into the difference between a “Return of Service” and a “Non-Return of Service”. 

Success: Return of Service

When a process server is able to successfully serve the intended person, the server files with the court a document titled a “Return of Service.” Under § 48.21, Fla. Stat., the return of service must list several items required by statute. These include:

  1. The date and time when the server received the documents to be served;
  2. The date and time of making service;
  3. The manner of making service;
  4. The name of the person who was served;
  5. If the person is served in a representative capacity, the position occupied by the person;
  6. The pleadings and documents served;
  7. The signature of the person who served process.

While it is not explicitly required by the statute, servers frequently also include additional information, such as: the description of the person served (e.g. race, height, hair color), the location of the service, and other pertinent details.

A copy of a sample return of service can be viewed HERE. While not included in our example, it is typical for the server to attach a copy of the summons served to the Return of Service filed.

No Success: Return of Non-Service

If a process server is unable to serve a defendant after several attempts at delivery, the server will usually create and file a “Verified Return of Non-Service” with the court. Put simply, the non-service affidavit explains how and why the server was unable to make service. Non-service affidavits typically list:

  1. The date the summons was received by the process server;
  2. The name and address of the person who was supposed to be served;
  3. A recitation that the server engaged in diligent inquiry to find the person;
  4. The reason the server was unable to deliver process (e.g. abandoned premise);
  5. A statement that the server has discontinued its attempts at service.

A sample non-service affidavit can be viewed: HERE. The reason a server files a non-service affidavit is so that the party attempting service (usually the plaintiff) can move on to attempting service by alternative means.   

Another Avenue: Constructive Service via Publication

After failing to serve process, the plaintiff can typically move on to using alternative, or “constructive” service of process. These efforts are supported by the non-service affidavit filed by the process server. However, the Plaintiff must prepare its own diligent search affidavit.

Constructive service of process is governed in Florida under Chapter 49, Fla. Stat. Constructive service by publication is only allowed in certain types of case, as provided by § 49.01. In all cases, service by publication requires the plaintiff, its agent, or its attorney to file a sworn affidavit. § 49.031. The affidavit must list certain contents depending on the type of person served. § 49.041 (for natural persons); § 49.051 (for corporations).

For example, when serving a natural person by publication, the affidavit must contain:

  1. A statement that diligent search and inquiry have been made to discover the name and residence of the person, and that these are set forth in the affidavit as known by the person taking the oath;
  2. Whether the person to be served is 18 years old or whether their age is unknown;
  3. A statement regarding the known address of the person.

For more information, see § 49.041, Fla. Stat., and consult with your attorney.

Bringing it All Together

There are two work products a process server can deliver: a “Return of Service” and a “Return of Non-Service.” The first one is filed by the server if it is successful; the second is filed if the server cannot find the defendant. After exhausting attempts at personal service, a litigant can typically attempt service by publication. In either event, the Florida statutes set forth strict requirements which must be adhered to when serving process. As such, litigants should ensure they, and their process server, understand and abide by these requirements.

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.

Greetings from Palma Process Servers of Jacksonville! We are a local, veteran-owned business specializing in quick, compliant and accurate service of process, reliably delivered when and where you need it. Our office is strategically located in Jacksonville to handle requests for service of process anywhere in the Duval County.