You’ve been served? An expert’s take on process serving in television and movies

“The movie Pineapple Express has made our jobs as process servers a lot harder,” said  Tanya, One Legal’s Affiliate Relations Manager.

Since 15 million civil cases are filed each year in the U.S., it makes sense that we would see much of that same process play out on the screen. Any time an individual or business becomes a part of a legal action—and sometimes even when they’re not directly involved—they need to be notified in the proper way. This is where a process server comes in.

And with the volunteer-impersonating, office-intruding, surgery-interrupting, marijuana-loving character of “Dale Denton,” in Pineapple Express (watch a clip to see for yourself, but be warned, it’s NSFW) there’s a lot to take issue with when you’re an expert on service of process around the country. You know, such as his trunk full of disguises and a propensity for trespassing.

But how accurate is process serving in television and movies the rest of the time?

Tanya Oliver watched these clips from various movies and television shows where (Spoiler Alert) characters are served legal papers. And she gave her expert opinion on the shoulds, the should-nots, and the why-on-earth-would-yous of media’s service of process moments. Take a look:

Serving Sara

Tanya’s take:

That is true, that is what they all say. But that’s the only thing that he got right in that clip.

We would get a phone call if our server behaved that way. They would say he was rude, he was inappropriate. Besides that, he’s trespassing when he enters the house without permission. And that goes for anyone on the planet. Of course, if they could do that it would be so much easier for us… But still illegal.

Sometimes people are just mad about being served. We get people saying, “You’ve got the wrong person” all the time. So I actually get mad if my server takes that to heart and turns around and leaves. No, leave the papers, because we hear that all the time—that’s the only accurate thing about this.

Parks and Rec

Tanya’s take:

That would be a great server! Because you often get “They’re not here, how can I help you?” Granted if we’re looking for Ken Smith and Mary the secretary says that… But the server could totally do that and I would applaud the effort. They aren’t impersonating anyone or carrying flowers or trespassing. That would be awesome.

New Girl

Tanya’s take:

Sure, that would work. But, you know, nobody says “You’ve been served.” You’re supposed to inform them that these are legal papers, but we don’t say “You’ve been served.”

People are going to say—or not say—whatever they want, especially if they don’t want to be served. So a process server doesn’t have to get any verbal confirmation. For instance, if we see somebody through a window, and we make eye contact with them, that’s proper notification and I acknowledge that they see the papers, that’s proper notification.

While servers want to get verbal confirmation of their names, most people won’t verify. We would never serve papers if we waited until the person confirmed their full name.

Crash

Tanya’s take:

That is acceptable.

Another reason not to say “you’ve been served,” is that I’ve served papers for probate matters, when we have to notify all the cousins what we’re doing. And it has to be done personally. And you’re not ‘being served’. We just have to notify you that grandma’s house is going up for sale, or that she is being moved into assisted living. So even though it is “service of process,” you’re not in trouble or being personally served in that way.

Suits

Tanya’s take:

Nobody would be that sneaky.

Since that is a hostile situation, they would have a third-party conduct the serve, they wouldn’t have an attorney do it. If they knew that the other party was going to comply, that would be doable. If they couldn’t find someone to serve and they knew, for instance, that they were going to be at the hearing anyway, then they might just hand it to them at the hearing. But only if you know that the recipients were going to be amicable, otherwise they could easily say: “I was never served properly.” In that situation, it would never work.

The Good Fight

Tanya’s take:

You know what I love about these? The server really seems to know who the person they are serving is. In cities like that? In New York? You can’t get up to higher floors, people have to call down and allow entry.

Some businesses use that barrier to refuse to accept service and delay the start of the case. When San Jose wanted the A’s they sued the MLB, but we couldn’t serve papers because security wouldn’t let my server up and they wouldn’t send anyone down. They are only putting off the inevitable, but they use it as a way to hold off the ticking clock.

Buildings in New York were great because you can serve the doorman. When certain high-powered businessmen, whose names are incorporated, get sued, it’s easy: you can serve the business address. When government officials are sued, you can often serve the state office.

But you have to have the experience to know about those channels, and that knowledge is something that our network of our servers and our process serving department has discovered over many years.

Las Vegas and Florida and Nevada have a lot of gated communities. That’s hard. You have to get into the gated communities. If it’s a guard gated community, they will call up the residence and you have to wait to be admitted. And you have to say what you’re there for while at the guard gate, otherwise, the server could find themselves banned from the community altogether, unable to conduct future serves.

Scandal

Tanya’s take:

That could work. He knows the person being served and has access to the building.

Is it something that the “Assistant U.S. Attorney General” would do? No. They would never do it. But it’s possible. I’m sure they have 50,000 other people they could hand it off to. But, of course, it was personal in that episode.

Jessica Jones

Tanya’s take:

That would be so awesome if they could lift up a car! So awesome.

You know, a lot of people want ‘Geo tagging.’ It’s not that we don’t offer it, we just don’t store that information. Any of our servers can send us a picture of the front door to prove that they served the person.

Nobody antagonizes like that. At all. Because people pull guns and police get called. And some servers are fine with you calling the police—they’re just doing their jobs. But our servers are professional.

The person we are serving can be completely awful to the server, but they can still complain to their attorney who complains to our attorney, who calls us. So our servers go overboard with ‘killing them with kindness’ just because the person is going to be mad. Less is more.

The Lucy Show

Tanya’s take:

See! Again, he was prepared for it. Often, they know it’s coming. They’ve been expecting it. 50% of the time it’s not a big deal. But service has to be done that way. A lot of stuff in divorces, the husband’s retirement fund gets served. The company doesn’t care, but it has to be done that way.

Even with a wholly by the book ‘perfect serve,’ there’s nothing preventing your attorney from challenging service after you’ve received papers. Our servers are professional and get creative to do whatever they need to do to complete the serve–legally. Learn more about One Legal process serving.

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When has process serving in television caught your eye, either for being highly unlikely or fairly illegal? Share in the comments!

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About the Author

Lindsey Dean is the Content Marketing Manager for One Legal where she is fueled by coffee, tea, and food for the imagination.

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