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How does a state court get personal jurisdiction over someone in a civil case?
Service of process means providing an individual with a summons (or other authorized method of notification), which gives notice to the individual that she is being called before the court. Personal jurisdiction in state court is governed by the individual state’s law concerning service of process. Service of process must generally take place (the summons must be delivered) while the defendant is physically present within that state. The exception to this rule is that every state has a law, known as a “long-arm statute”, allowing service of process on defendants outside of the state.
- Relevant Law: As an example, see New York’s Long-arm Statute, NY CPLR § 302 (2012).
- Note: There are limited circumstances where a state will allow a court to exercise jurisdiction over an individual without delivering a summons. For example, a court may exercise jurisdiction over an individual in a family matter (such a divorce), if that individual is a resident of the state and cannot be found after diligent search. Another situation is that a court may exercise jurisdiction over an individual’s real estate that is located in the state without delivering a summons to that individual if all attempts to locate the individual fail and notice is posted on the property.
Discussion: Why do you think that states place such importance on delivering notice to establish personal jurisdiction? Do you feel like serving an individual with a summons while she is within the state justifies the court in exercising jurisdiction over that person? Do you think it is justifiable in any circumstance to exercise jurisdiction over someone without delivering a summons?
- Effectuating service of process (delivering the summons) implicates and individual’s due process rights, under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. As such, state are cautious not to infringe upon a defendant’s rights. Some would argue that mere presence in the state should not be an adequate basis for jurisdiction. The reasoning is that the presence in the state could be fleeting with little additional ties to the state. Others might argue that this is the most appropriate method of establishing personal jurisdiction, as physical presence in the state demonstrates the requisite level of connection to the forum.
Practice Question: Quinton decides to sue Maria for backing into his new car in the parking lot of the grocery store. Quinton files a lawsuit and pays a process server to deliver the summons and complaint to Maria. The process server tries for weeks to locate Maria but is unsuccessful. Will Quinton be able to sue Maria if he cannot deliver the summons and complaint?
- The inability to find the defendant presents a problem for delivering the summons and perfecting service of process. Most states, however, have alternative methods of delivering a summons in specific circumstances. For example, all states allow for service of process on the driver of a vehicle by sending the summons through through the Department of Motor Vehicles. For example, see California’s law concerning service of process through the state DMV.