Ask the County Law Librarian-Personal Service of Court Papers
Q. I want to sue my tenant for property damage in small claims court. He left no forwarding address, and has abandoned his tenancy. He has no job. He gets his money from alimony and child support. However, I know that he picks up his kids from the school. Can I use my adult son to personally hand deliver a summons to him when he is with his kids at school? What are the rules?
A. There are requirements to ensure proper service of process, but first you may want to try discovering your ex-tenant’s address; it may be easier than you think. The Sacramento County Public Law Library(SCPLL) has created a guide on Finding People and Businesses, detailing some common ways in which people (and their addresses or phone numbers) can be traced. Also, as a recipient of child and spousal support, your ex-tenant may have had to update his address with the local family law court or child support agency. Most court records, unless expressly sealed, are public record and therefore available for viewing if you have a case number. In Sacramento County, case numbers can be found using the online Case Index, and family law case documents can be retrieved at the William R. Ridgeway Family Relations Courthouse. For other counties, consult the California Courts court directory.
The requirements for personal service of process are addressed in Code of Civil Procedure Sections 413.10-418.11. Although these code sections refer to civil actions at the trial court level, they also apply to small claims actions. SCPLL offers an online video tutorial and guide on personal service of court documents, and the California Courts Self-Help Center offers advice and forms on service of small claims court documents. At the law library, we suggest reading The Registered Process Server’s Guide to Service of Process in California, a very useful book that covers the numerous variables involved in serving court documents.
In the event you are unable to locate the defendant’s address after performing due diligence, you may want to consult previous Ask the County Law Librarian columns on Serving Legal Documents to a P.O. Box and Service by Publication. If you can locate a friend, family member, or coworker that has regular contact with your ex-tenant, you may want to consult the www.courts.ca.gov for information on substituted service.
If you do receive a money judgment and are looking to collect by levying funds from the debtor’s deposit accounts, be aware that some of the money may be exempt from collection, depending on the source of funding. For more information on which types of property may be safe from judgment creditors, see the Sacramento County Public Law Library’s research guide on Exemptions and the book "How to Collect When You Win a Lawsuit", published by Nolo Press.
You can always do some research at the Sacramento County Public Law Library. The law library has print and electronic resources and friendly reference law librarians are available to assist you.
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.
Coral Henning, Director