Q. I want to sue this guy who sold me a bill of goods, but he has disappeared off the face of the planet and I can’t find him anywhere. I thought I read somewhere that I could just put a notice in the newspaper and that would be ok. How do I do that?
A. When filing a lawsuit, you are required to serve the other party with your summons and complaint, to notify them of the lawsuit. If the other party cannot be located, you will have to ask the court for permission to publish the summons in the newspaper. Publication of Summons, as set forth in California’s Code of Civil Procedure section 415.50, is considered a method of last resort. The court can only approve your request for an Order for Publication of Summons if you show that the other party cannot be served in any other manner. You will need to prove to the court that you have made exhaustive attempts to locate the other party. The California Courts Self-Help Website suggests numerous ways to track people down under “Finding Someone in Order to Serve Him or Her” at http://courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-serving.htm. The Law Library also has a guide to “Finding People & Businesses,” available on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/finding-people.aspx.
After all these attempts, if you are still unable to locate the other party, you may ask the court for permission for publish your summons in the newspaper. To do this you must complete an “Ex Parte Application for Order for Publication of Summons,” a “Memorandum of Points and Authorities,” a “Supporting Declaration,” and an “Order for Publication of Summons” for the judge’s signature. You must also obtain declarations from anyone else involved in the search for the other party. There are no fill-in-the-blank forms for these documents, which must be typed on 28-line pleading paper and otherwise conform to the California Rules of Court, starting with Rule 2.100, and any other local rules regarding the format of papers to be filed with the court. Luckily, the Law Library has prepared sample pleadings, and instructions for completing those pleadings, that you can download for free and adapt to your facts and circumstances at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/legal-research-guides.aspx. Scroll down and look for "Service by Publication: Step-by-Step."
Most often the reason a request for Publication of Summons is denied is because the court does not feel that adequate steps have been taken to attempt to find the person to be served. If the court grants the order to publish, however, your next step is to publish the Summons in a newspaper of general circulation in the location where the party was last known to reside. The newspaper will publish your Summons once a week for four weeks, then provide you with confirmation of publication. Pursuant to Government Code § 6064, service is deemed complete on the 29th day after the first date of publication. If the other party has not filed a response 30 days after the effective date for service, you may file for default against the other party. You will then be able to continue your case without the other party’s participation.
Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email firstname.lastname@example.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.