Fact Checked

What Does "Return of Service" Mean?

Toni Henthorn
Toni Henthorn

Service of process is the way in which courts and plaintiffs legally notify defendants or respondents of impending proceedings before a court or other administrative entity. Typically, a process server hand delivers court documents and a summons to the defendant at his home or place of business. Rule 4 of the United States Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Part 6 of the United Kingdom Civil Procedure Rules require appropriate service on a defendant to guarantee his right to due process. Consequentially, process servers must file a return of service with the court once they have delivered the court documents to the respondent, which records the time and place of service and the person to whom service was given. The return of service provides irrefutable evidence in court that proper service took place within a required deadline and in accordance with state guidelines.

Correct and timely service of process can play a pivotal role in determining the outcome of court proceedings. Once a defendant receives a summons from a process server, the court can grant a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff if the defendant fails to respond or participate. If, however, the process has not been filed, the defendant can claim that he was not served. Without proof of service that is afforded by the return of service, the defendant will prevail, since he has a constitutional right to due process under the law. In some states, process servers electronically record their efforts to present papers through wireless transmissions or global position satellite (GPS) transmissions.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Personal, direct service to the named party on a complaint or summons and timely filing of a return of service are almost universally required when the party is an individual. Business entities generally have registered agents, to whom service of documents can be delivered. For parties in a different state or country, most jurisdictions allow service by registered mail. Service to defendants in countries outside of the court jurisdiction must conform to regulations set forth in the Hague Service Convention. When the location of a defendant is unknown, most courts permit service through publication in a newspaper.

Two amendments to the United States Constitution, the fifth and the 14th, prevent the government from taking a citizen’s “life, liberty or property” without due process. The framers of the Constitution wanted to avoid scenarios that had arisen in the past, where magistrates would suddenly and without warning seize property and throw people into jail until they paid their debts. In recognition of this significant duty of notification, jurisdictions mandate training and licensure of all individuals who want to be process servers. After a training course is completed, applicants must take written or oral tests to prove competency in the proper procedures for service of process and return of service.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of a return of service agreement?

A return of service agreement is a written agreement between an employer and an employee. It describes the obligations of the employee, the demands of the employer, and the duration of the employee's commitment to the company in return for pay and benefits. This kind of contract is often used in the medical industry, where physicians must work a certain number of years in a specific area in order to get a license. It is also used in professions like teaching when the employee agrees to dedicate a certain amount of time to working in that area.

Is a return of service agreement legally binding?

A return of service agreement is a binding legal contract, yes. The agreement is a type of contract between the employer and the employee, and both are expected to uphold the terms of the contract. The agreement is enforceable in court if either side doesn't follow it.

What happens if an employee does not fulfill the terms of a return of service agreement?

If an employee disobeys the terms of a return of service agreement, the employer may file a lawsuit. The employer may be able to reclaim any cash paid to the employee or to seek damages in court, depending on the terms of the agreement. The employer may end the agreement under specific conditions without taking further legal action.

What is the difference between a return of service agreement and a contract of employment?

A return of service agreement is a specific type of contract of employment. A contract of employment is a broad agreement between an employer and an employee, while a return of service agreement is a more specific arrangement between an employer and an employee that outlines the employee's duties and the employer's expectations. A contract of employment may include a return of service agreement as part of the contract, but it is not necessary.

Can a return of service agreement be terminated early?

If the employer believes that the employee is not executing their duties or if they no longer need the employee's services, they may initiate the termination of the contract. The employee may also end the agreement, but written notice must be provided to the employer.

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