Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Personal Service Definition:

Service of a court document directly to an individual.

Related Terms: Ordinary Service, Substituted Service, Due Process

The direct delivery of the court document to an individual,  often distinguished by the less onerous process of ordinary service.

As Justice Switzer of the United States District Court, Iowa, wrote in Martin v Better Taste Popcorn:

"Personal service ordinarily means service upon the defendant personally and the same is true when personal service is had upon a defendant in whatever place he may be found."

Personal service is always a better form of service because it implies the direct delivery of a court document right into the hands of the individual or corporation being served, and there is no risk of postal error or such other delivery accident which may frustrate ordinary service.

"Personal service of a document is to be effected as follows:

  • "On an individual, by leaving a copy of the document with him or her, (and)
  • "On a corporation ... by leaving a copy of the document with the president, chair, mayor or other chief officer of the corporation...."

The American treatise on the law, Corpus Juris Secundum, at 72 CJS §33, nicely summarized the common law as follows:

"Personal service is the ordinary method of obtaining jurisdiction over the person of defendant....

"In the absence of a statute authorizing a substitute method, service must be personal...."

The strict requirements of personal service are usually set out by the relevant Rules of Court.

Where the default requirement of  personal service has not been displaced by statute or Rules of Court, it becomes necessary to prove to the court that personal service was completed  especially where the person served does not appear in court. Service, either personal service or ordinary service, is proved by the filing of an affidavit of service which sets out the completion of the necessary requirements for the particular kind of service.

An affidavit of personal service would generally be expected to cover the following:

  • The date and exact time of service
  • The name of the person served
  • A full description of the document served
  • The particulars of service such as that the document was handed to the person, or was left at their feet or was left in their close proximity after an announcement that the documents were for that person. Some people will actually refused to take documents when they become aware that it is for the purposes of service. In these cases, most process servers will simply drop the documents on the ground in front of the person and announce that they have been served and set of these details in the affidavit personal service).
  • Information on the part of the person who did the service as to how he or she knew that the person served was the appropriate target of service.  often, a photograph is exhibited to the affidavit of personal service or the process server will note that the target admitted to being the person served,  that may checked identification or that the person served was personally known to the process server.

In the practice of law, when a court document initiates for starts a court action, usually the other side or interested parties do not yet have lawyers since they are not aware of the litigation until it was served.  As such, it is typical in the Rules of Court to require personal service of initiating court documents such as a statement of claim or a petition.

Once a statement of defence or an appearance has been filed by the other side to the litigation, those documents often offer forms of ordinary service such as delivery to a law firm,  service by fax, service by mail or service by e-mail.  Even if the official response by a defendant or a respondent does not extend opportunities for ordinary service of subsequent court documents, most Rules of Court will allow ordinary service of almost all subsequent court documents.

Personal service is almost always more expensive than ordinary service. Many litigants resort to process servers to serve court documents. The cost of these professional legal services is approximately $100 for service and the preparation of an affidavit of service.


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