Woman looks out a window,
When the person you’re trying to serve won’t answer the door, what do you do?

When your documents require personal service only (e.g., Protective Orders, Restraining Orders, Subpoenas, etc.), it can be frustrating when your subject seems to continuously evade the process server.

In most other cases, if someone can’t be served personally, you can ask the court for permission to serve them via alternative service. Depending on the judge and the jurisdiction, this can include serving someone via email, text message, posting, publishing, etc. 

In Oregon (and in many other locations), personal service only means exactly that — you must serve the documents properly in person to the person named on the documents. There is no possible alternative to moving your case forward, unless your judge grants you a Motion for Alternative Service (see ORS 163.765 (5)(b). 

In the intricate dance of protective orders, ensuring that parties are properly served is paramount. Yet, there are occasions when parties prove elusive, presenting challenges to the service of process. In this blog post, we will delve into two crucial aspects—diligent investigation and the importance of persistence—that can significantly enhance your chances of successfully serving hard-to-reach parties or those evading the service of process.

Diligent Investigation

Serving an evasive party begins with a meticulous investigation. Prepare to work collaboratively with your process server or private investigator and dedicate time and resources to gather comprehensive information about the elusive individual. Give your process server all the information you’ve already gathered including any past attempts documented by other process servers. This includes accurate addresses, details about their employment, and any other relevant information that can serve as breadcrumbs leading to successful service. Your process server/investigator can help fill in the rest after doing some surveillance and/or digging online.

Hire an experienced investigator or process server who specializes in uncovering hard-to-find details.

When you work with an experienced investigator, they will understand the significance of checking multiple sources for information to cross-verify and ensure accuracy. They’ll have access to multiple online databases and can use open source intelligence to find additional information. But online investigation is just the first leg. Surveillance of your subject will help confirm schedules, habits, and other details.

Persistence and Patience: The Virtues of Tenacity

Serving a party that seems determined to evade the process server requires a combination of persistence and patience. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and success often comes to those who maintain a determined and unwavering approach. Regular process service usually includes three attempts made at different times of the day and on different days. Normally, people who aren’t evading can be successfully served in this manner. But folks who evade tend to not answer their door and can only be intercepted once they leave their house. It can take time for a situation like this to unfold, so don’t get discouraged if things don’t happen immediately or there is some other setback.

I once was tasked with serving a domestic violence restraining order on an ex-spouse who seemed to live at at least three different places. I was able to chat with him by phone and he promised several times to meet with me but then always came up MIA. We were finally able to serve him at the courthouse once we learned he would be attending a hearing on another matter. It took a total of six attempts, but we got the job done.

In another case, I was able to serve a man who lived behind a locked gate (the house was over 100 yards back from the gate) and the gate had no call box. My first attempts centered around trying to connect with him as he brought his trash cans out to the curb on trash day. My client believed the servee brought the cans out early in the morning, but upon arrival (at 6:00 a.m.), the cans were already at the curb. The next week, we learned under surveillance that he brought the cans out the prior evening  at about 10:00 p.m. Eventually, we caught up with the servee on a day when he was bringing the cans back into his yard. It took about five attempts, but it did happen.

What it Might Cost

On average, surveillance (or “stake outs”) run at least 10-12 hours; sometimes more. Your process server/investigator will charge typically $75/hour with a two-hour minimum to do surveillance or “stake-outs” on top of the process service fee. 

Documenting the Journey: The Paper Trail of Success

Make sure your process server provides you with a detailed and organized documentation trail. Every step of the investigation and each attempt at service should be meticulously recorded. Thorough documentation not only satisfies legal requirements but also serves as a crucial asset in case of legal challenges.

Successfully serving hard-to-reach parties is an art that combines the precision of diligent investigation with the endurance of persistence. By embracing these two crucial elements, and documenting each step along the way, you can significantly increase the likelihood of overcoming the challenges posed by elusive parties and ensuring that the legal process unfolds justly and effectively.