Complete a service of process in the Boston Municipal Court or District Court
District, Housing, and Boston Municipal Courts
What you need
A civil lawsuit (as opposed to a criminal case) can be filed or started in court by a person, an organization such as a company, or a government agency, against another person, organization or government agency. The word “person” used in this topic includes all these other possibilities.
A plaintiff (the person who is suing) begins a civil lawsuit in court by:
- Filing a complaint (the document submitted to the court describing what the lawsuit is about)
- Paying a filing or entry fee to the court
- Buying an original summons (an order issued by the court requiring a specific person to respond within a specific period of time) from the court for each person being sued
- Notifying each person being sued by “service of process”
It is a plaintiff’s responsibility to hire an appropriate person to serve each defendant with the copy of the summons and a copy of the complaint.
Appropriate persons to serve are as follows:
- A sheriff;
- A deputy sheriff;
- A special sheriff;
- Any other person authorized by law, such as a constable; or
- A person specially appointed by the court for this purpose.
You can find Sheriffs at Massachusetts Sheriffs. 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 information on indigency for what to do if you cannot afford the fees.
If the defendant is willing to accept service
If the defendant is willing to accept service, it means s/he is willing to accept a copy of the summons and complaint directly from you. The defendant must sign the original summons where it says “Acceptance of Service” in the presence of a notary public, and you must then deliver the original summons signed by the defendant to the court as proof of service. You can often find a notary public at a bank, and most attorneys are also notary publics. The notary public may charge a small fee to witness the defendant’s signature.
How to request
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.