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In the first episode of Jessica Jones, the title character is tasked with delivering a summons to a strip club owner who is accused of maintaining an unsafe workplace. (A pole dancer got a concussion after the pole broke.)

The character, who has some sort of superpowers, has to deliver it because the owner's bodyguards make it impossible to actually hand over the summons.

Can you really avoid being summoned just by refusing to physically touch the paper?

  • Not really. Offering to hand someone court papers which are refused by the person served counts as personal service. Physically touching the papers isn't necessary. – ohwilleke Mar 17 '18 at 1:57
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There may be places, either real or fictional, where avoiding works. It is a great plot point for instance, but the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure upon which most United States based localities structure their rules do not make avoidance a viable strategy.

The rules for serving a summons can be found at https://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/frcp/rule_4 include the following:

(2) doing any of the following:
(A) delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to the individual personally;
(B) leaving a copy of each at the individual's dwelling or usual place of abode with someone of suitable age and discretion who resides there; or
(C) delivering a copy of each to an agent authorized by appointment or by law to receive service of process.

and then later it discusses applying any costs incurred as a result of avoiding the service:

Subdivision (d). This text is new, but is substantially derived from the former subdivisions (c)(2)(C) and (D), added to the rule by Congress in 1983. The aims of the provision are to eliminate the costs of service of a summons on many parties and to foster cooperation among adversaries and counsel. The rule operates to impose upon the defendant those costs that could have been avoided if the defendant had cooperated reasonably in the manner prescribed.

Also if the target of the summons can be shown to have tried to evade service the time limit for service may be altered:

The procedure of requesting waiver of service should also not be used if the time for service under subdivision (m) will expire before the date on which the waiver must be returned. While a plaintiff has been allowed additional time for service in that situation, e.g., Prather v. Raymond Constr. Co., 570 F. Supp. 278 (N.D. Ga. 1983), the court could refuse a request for additional time unless the defendant appears to have evaded service pursuant to subdivision (e) or (h). It may be noted that the presumptive time limit for service under subdivision (m) does not apply to service in a foreign country.

In California's guide they discuss a variety of means of service and then under personal service state:

  • The server gives the papers to the party being served. It can be at the party’s home, work, or anywhere on the street.
  • The server has to identify the party being served and hand the legal papers to him or her and inform him or her that they are court papers.
  • If the party being served does not want to take the papers, they can be left on the ground in front of him or her.
  • If he or she takes the papers and tears them up or throws them away, service is still considered to be valid. The person being served does not have to sign anything.
  • The server then fills out a proof of service, detailing when, where, and how (in person) the papers were served. The server signs the proof of service and returns it to you to file in court.
  • Personal service is complete the day the papers are served.
  • 1
    Although you have provided information that is critical to answering the question, you haven't actually answered it. – phoog Dec 30 '15 at 20:53
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    @phoog you are correct, but given that different courts have different rules for serving papers and the question isn't limited to a single jurisdiction and or court I can't say for sure that what I've presented applies everywhere. I tried to provide references to real world locations that one could apply to the fictional world of Jessica Jones. – Jason Aller Dec 30 '15 at 20:59
  • Can you leave a TL;DR? I'm a bit lost. – Azor Ahai Jan 2 '16 at 6:30
  • This does not answer the question because in this case the normal server can't get anywhere near the person to be served. – Joshua Jan 18 '17 at 4:49
  • Physically touching the papers is not required. The service is complete when the papers are personally offered to the person or a substitute identified in the rule even if the subject of the service refuses to accept them (which is called service by refusal). If service can't be accomplished with due diligence then a judge can authorize substituted service of process by any means reasonably calculated to provide actual notice instead (e.g. some judges have authorized text messages to particular phone numbers or service on a bodyguard or gatekeeper). – ohwilleke Mar 17 '18 at 2:01
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Rules are going to vary by jurisdiction. I believe the show takes place in New York. According to New York law CVP § 308:

Personal service upon a natural person shall be made by any of the following methods:

1. by delivering the summons within the state to the person to be served;  or

2. by delivering the summons within the state to a person of suitable age and discretion at the actual place of business, dwelling place or usual place of abode of the person to be served and by either mailing the summons to the person to be served at his or her last known residence or by mailing the summons by first class mail to the person to be served at his or her actual place of business...  or
...
4. where service under paragraphs one and two cannot be made with due diligence, by affixing the summons to the door of either the actual place of business, dwelling place or usual place of abode within the state of the person to be served and by either mailing the summons to such person at his or her last known residence or by mailing the summons by first class mail to the person to be served at his or her actual place of business...

5. in such manner as the court, upon motion without notice, directs, if service is impracticable under paragraphs one, two and four of this section.

6. For purposes of this section, “actual place of business” shall include any location that the defendant, through regular solicitation or advertisement, has held out as its place of business.

So no, refusing to touch the paper (or even hiring bodyguards to make sure they get nowhere near him) is not going to stop the service. It will delay it slightly as the process server attempts "due diligence" in personal service, but after that, they could likely just serve someone at his strip club or residence - and even if that somehow failed, they could eventually just mail it to him and post it on his door. And if even THAT somehow failed, the court could order some other method of service. (And unless superhero powers are very common in that universe, I doubt that "due diligence" would include needing to attempt service by superhero.)

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