I am involved in a court case and need to serve legal documents and the only address I have for the other person is a mailbox at a UPS store and someone told me that I can’t serve a P.O. Box, is that true?

The answer depends on what type of P.O. Box you are trying to serve. If it is an actual post office box that is offered by the federal government, through the United States Post Office, then it cannot be served. However, according to the California Business & Professions Code § 17538.5, you can serve a Commercial Mail Receiving Agency (CMRA) which is commonly referred to as a “post office box” even though legally it is not. CMRAs offer private mailboxes, and these are technically not P.O. boxes. If you know that the person you are suing has a mailbox with a commercial mail receiving agency, you do have the option of serving the agency location with copies of your legal papers.

You are able to serve a commercial mail receiving agency because when a customer rents a private mailbox at one of these agencies, California law requires that they sign an agreement which authorizes the CMRA owner or operator to act as agent for service of process for the mail receiving service customer.

Even if the person you are suing has terminated their private mailbox, California law requires that CMRAs accept service of process for and on behalf of any of their mail receiving service customers for two (2) years after termination of any mail receiving service customer agreement. So you may be able to serve the owner or operator of the CMRA within two (2) years after end of the private mailbox rental agreement.

Below are some general steps for serving a CMRA:

1. You must verify the location of the private mailbox. Contact the U.S. Postal Services office and ask for the location of the box. This has the added benefit of allowing you to verify that this box does indeed belong to a CMRA, and is not a federal post office box, which cannot act as agent for service of process.
2. Ask a friend, process server, sheriff, or anyone over 18 years of age and not a party to the case to serve the CMRA owner or operator with copies of your claim.
3. Though not required by law, it is always a good idea to mail a copy of the plaintiff’s claim to the private mailbox itself.
4. The CMRA will send all documents by first-class mail to the last known home or personal address of the mail receiving service customer. Make sure to serve the CMRA at least fifteen (15) days prior to your hearing date.
5. File a completed Proof of Service form with the court clerk five (5) days before your hearing date.

Check out the law library’s Legal Resource Guides for more information on serving your papers.

Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email sacpress@saclaw.org. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.

Coral Henning, Director
@coralh & @saclawlibrarian