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Since defective service has its own consequences, a plaintiff has an incentive to service correctly, so I'm curious why a neutral party has to serve in some places like California?

Also, to what degree can the plaintiff not be involved. For example, if the plaintiff gets a neutral person to serve the papers on their behalf, and plaintiff + server are taking a walk on the street where defendant lives, and plaintiff points out "yeah that's the person" and the server serves the defendant. Is that OK? Since the server technically wasn't the plaintiff, even though the plaintiff was still right there?

Or if the plaintiff is a company, does this mean all employees of that company cannot serve papers, or only the company leadership?

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    Who says that neutral party must serve? Which jurisdiction are you asking about?
    – Greendrake
    Jan 23 at 8:34
  • In at least some jurisdictions a plaintiff may serve papers directly.It may be convenient to use a process server, but not required. Jan 23 at 16:46
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    @Greendrake oh I didn't realize this wasn't eh case everywhere, looking at California then
    – james
    Jan 23 at 18:47
  • Why? Because the local rules say so!
    – Trish
    Jan 23 at 23:28
  • Why not change it to the US generally so the answer can be based on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
    – user36183
    Jan 24 at 2:23
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What is service? The delivery of notice of legal actions.

What happens if the defendant disputes the fact that they were served? The court must decide if the defendant is telling the truth. If the plaintiff delivered service themselves, it becomes a "he said, she said" situation.

So, the rationale for not allowing personal service, is that if there is a (more) neutral third party doing the service, the court can rely on their testimony.

Now, the server must fill out a detailed "proof of service" document, detailing when, where, and how (e.g. in person, via mail, etc.) the papers were served. The server must sign this under penalty of perjury. The threat of perjury is supposed to dissuade false statements, while the detailed nature of the document is supposed to allow the defendant chances to dispute the service (e.g. "No, you didn't serve me papers at my house on X date and Y time; I was out of the country on vacation/at work/at a restaurant, and here is my passport/timecard/credit card receipt as proof).

Also, see about the multiple different types of service. https://www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-serving.htm

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    Your link also answers the question of "can I be there?" The answer is yes; the last section on that page says "You may also make a plan to meet the person somewhere and then have a server with you to give him or her the paperwork when you meet up."
    – D M
    Jan 23 at 21:22
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Plaintiffs can serve defendants

No such prohibition exists.

As to why it might not be a good idea:

  • most people’s emotions on being served are negative. Some people react to negative emotions with violence. A neutral process server a) may mitigate the risk of violence and b) if violence eventuates, sooner them than you.
  • service can be highly technical. For example, did you know that local governments in can only be served by serving the CEO personally? No? Well a Queensland based process server would.
  • service is often disputed. If one of the people testifying about the service is unbiased, their testimony is likely to be given more weight.
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  • I don't think it's a blanket rule that no such prohibition exists. For example, the US FRCP require that service be made by someone "who is at least 18 years old and not a party." FRCP 4(c)(2).
    – user36183
    Jan 24 at 2:22
  • Though other than that the policy reasons you give are spot on.
    – user36183
    Jan 24 at 2:24
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    @ColinLosey this is why I name a jurisdiction when the OP doesn’t
    – Dale M
    Jan 24 at 2:31
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    Ok, might be better to say "In _____ no such prohibition exists, but it might elsewhere," then.
    – user36183
    Jan 24 at 2:33

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