Service of process is the procedure used to notify a defendant of the lawsuit. Because it is fair and important for someone to have an opportunity to respond to allegations, service is required by law, is exacting, and must be done in one of several specific ways. If service is not done according to the law, the court may dismiss your complaint. Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states the requirements for service. Rule 4 includes special requirements for service when suing the United States, one of its agencies, or one of its employees.
If you are the one suing, you must fill out summons forms (one for each defendant) and present them to the clerk’s office, where a clerk will sign them and stamp them with the court’s seal. From there, you will need a copy of each official summons (the one with the clerk’s signature and seal) and a copy of the complaint and any of its attachments (one copy for each defendant). You must serve those documents on each defendant within 90 days of filing the complaint or risk dismissal of your case.
There are three ways to serve a defendant with a complaint: