Service of process is the formal notice given to parties involved in a legal action, in some cases informing them of the start of a legal action and in other cases directing them to appear for questioning or to provide documents. The law typically has strict and specific service methods, rarely permitting parties to deviate from them, unless exceptional circumstances exist. A server, for example, may not serve an individual by simply leaving documents with a residential building’s door attendant like they might do at a receptionist desk when serving a business. However, in New York, courts have allowed legal documents (“process”) to be served on a person’s door attendant in limited circumstances.
The fundamental rules for service of legal papers are derived from the U.S. Constitution. Constitutional due process requires that a party must give fair notice to an opposing party about upcoming legal proceedings. In the case of starting a legal action, anyone over the age of 18 who is not a party to the litigation (i.e., not a plaintiff or a defendant) may deliver the complaint and summons, effecting service of process. Traditionally, service of process is done through personal delivery, delivery on a defendant’s agent, by mail, or a combination of methods. However, a party may request an alternative method, which must satisfy constitutional requirements and be approved by the court.
When a server personally hands legal documents to a recipient, they are effecting “proper service” under New York’s Civil Procedure Law and Rules (“CPLR”). When a server hands legal documents to a person who knows the recipient and lives at the same address as the recipient, and then follows up by mailing the document to the recipient, they are effecting “substitute service” under the CPLR.
The short answer is, “it depends.” In New York, a process server may not serve an individual through their door attendant until their attempt to serve the recipient has been “arrested” or halted by the door attendant.
If the below are true, courts have allowed service on a New York door attendant as effective substitute service:
Courts have held that when a door attendant obstructs the process server’s progress at the lobby and prevents access to the defendant’s specific apartment, the door attendant effectively redefines the actual residence to include the lobby floor. As a result, courts have allowed substitute service on a door attendant in these situations.
The only other situation where a process server can effect service through a door attendant is when the door attendant says that he or she has personally communicated with the intended recipient regarding the legal notice to be served. If the intended recipient informs their door attendant that they are aware of a process server attempting to serve them and request the door attendant’s assistance in avoiding service, and the door attendant relays this information to the process server, the server can effect substitute service through the door attendant.
In New York, process servers can only properly serve documents on an intended recipient through their door attendant in a few circumstances. As service of process marks the important procedural beginning to most litigations, it is taken seriously and scrutinized quite carefully. Should you have questions regarding service of process or other dispute-related matters, reach out to a member of our team for more information.