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Substitute Service: Ignorance is Not Bliss

Posted by CTM Legal Group | Apr 02, 2024 | 0 Comments

By Attorney Sarah Albert

Have you ever been sued before? If so, you have probably also received a summons. However, someone close to you could have received it in your place, and it's still your responsibility to investigate.

Substitute Service

A summons is one of the most important documents you can receive from a plaintiff. Plaintiffs provide it to the judge as proof that you were “summoned” to come to court, i.e., alerted that you need to file an appearance or answer to the complaint. If the plaintiff provides this proof to the judge, and you have taken no action based on the timeframe allowed in the documents, you can have a judgment entered against you without even having shown up. 

A summons is usually served to the defendant herself at her home. But it can also be left with someone else at your home, if that person is over 13 years old and is told what's in the envelope. Often defendants will say “I was never served – they gave the papers to my child or husband or parents,” but this type of substitute service counts as service. Even if the person accepting service has a cognitive mental impairment like autism, substitute service is still proper.[1]

You are most likely going to be served by a sheriff or a process server, who is someone specifically hired to serve the papers. This person then signs an affidavit of service stating that the papers were served to someone, described on the document, at a certain address. If that person lives with you, and that address is yours, you are lawfully served according to a judge. The court has jurisdiction over you whether you show up for court or not.  

Challenging Service

Challenging service is your right. If you were not served in accordance with the law, it is best to contact an attorney immediately to assert that right in court. If you ignore the situation because you've assessed you weren't properly served, and therefore it's not fair that you have to get involved, the lawsuit may continue without your participation. It may be too late to assert that fact later on, after judgment is rendered, and it is especially difficult when that judgment is being collected through citations and garnishments. Although potentially unfair and unjust, avoiding service – or “staying out of it” on principle – could lead to more legal difficulty and financial hardship down the line. At CTM Legal Group, we can help assess the situation and present you with your options, but it's best to allow us to assist sooner rather than later.

[1] “There is no statutory requirement that the recipient of substitute service be proved to be mentally competent in a legal sense.” U.S. Bank Tr. Natl. Assn. as Tr. for Towd Point Master Funding Tr. 2015-LM4 v. Zofkie, 206 N.E.3d 1006, 1010 (Ill. App. 1st Dist. 2021).

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