A copy of the summons and a copy of the complaint must be served on each defendant by a sheriff, a deputy sheriff, a special sheriff, by any other person authorized by law, such as a constable, or by some person specially appointed by the court for this purpose, such as a constable.  

It is a plaintiff’s responsibility to hire a sheriff/deputy sheriff or constable to serve each defendant with the summons and complaint.  You can find Sheriffs at . There are also directories of constables online.   You will also need to pay the sheriff or constable for serving each defendant, or give him/her a copy of your court approved indigency form.  See Indigency for more information on what to do if you cannot afford the fees.

Please keep in mind that a sheriff or deputy sheriff can deliver a summons for a lawsuit in any amount but only in the specific county where s/he is elected or authorized, and a constable can deliver a summons for a lawsuit seeking up to $7,000 and only in the specific city or town s/he is authorized or appointed in.  However, a sheriff or constable that is specially appointed in your case by the court can deliver a summons anywhere in the state and for a lawsuit in any amount, but it is your responsibility to hire the sheriff or constable and then prepare a motion asking the court to specially appoint that sheriff or constable in your court case.  

Once you have hired a sheriff or constable, give him/her the original summons, a copy of the summons, and a copy of the complaint.  The sheriff or constable will deliver a copy of the summons and a copy of the complaint to each defendant at the last known address(es) you have for each defendant.  

  • For successful service on a defendant who is a person, the sheriff or constable must personally hand a copy of the summons and complaint to the defendant, leave the copies at the defendant’s last and usual place of abode (last known residence), or deliver the copies to an agent authorized to receive service of process on behalf of the defendant.  
  • For successful service on a defendant that is a corporation or a company located in Massachusetts, the sheriff or constable must deliver a copy of the summons and complaint to an officer, a managing or general agent, or the person in charge of the business at the main place of business, or to an agent authorized to accept service of process on behalf of the corporation or company.
  • For successful service on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, you may have the sheriff or constable deliver a copy of the summons and complaint to the Boston office of the Attorney General, or you may mail the copies to the Attorney General by certified or registered mail.  
  • For successful service on any other Massachusetts government agency, you may have the sheriff or constable deliver a copy of the summons and complaint to the agency’s office, to its chairman or one of its members, or to its secretary or clerk (these are formal officers of the agency, and not simply employees), or you may mail the copies to the agency by certified or registered mail.  
  • For successful service on a county, city, town, etc., you may have the sheriff or constable deliver a copy of the summons and complaint to the treasurer or clerk of the city/town/etc., or have the sheriff or constable leave a copy of the papers with the person in charge of the office of the treasurer or clerk, or you may mail the copies to the treasurer or clerk of the city/town/etc. by certified or registered mail.  
  • For successful service on an authority, board, committee, etc., you may have the sheriff or constable deliver a copy of the summons and complaint to the chairman or other chief executive officer of the board, etc., or have the sheriff or constable leave the copies with the person in charge of the office of the board, etc., or you may mail the copies to the chairman or other chief executive officer by certified or registered mail.

If delivery is successful, then for each defendant the sheriff or constable will fill out the second page of the original summons known as the “Return of Service”.  The Return of Service is your proof to the court that each defendant was served.  If service is made by certified or registered mail, an original signed receipt by each defendant is your proof of service.  If someone other than a sheriff, deputy sheriff or special sheriff successfully delivers the papers to a defendant, that person must give you an Affidavit (a written statement signed under the pains and penalties of perjury) describing how service was made on each defendant as proof of service.  

Each original summons (NOT a copy) with the signed Return of Service or the signed receipt or the Affidavit must be filed in your court case (delivered to the court) within 90 days after the complaint was filed or the court may dismiss the case.  Check with the sheriff or constable to see if s/he will file the original summons in court for you, or whether you must file it yourself.  However, it is your responsibility to make sure that each original summons is filed in your court case within the time allowed.