Learn about service of process in Boston Municipal Court, District Court or Housing Court

Learn about “Service of Process” - the way you deliver court papers to the person required to respond to them.

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.  

What is service of process?

“Service of process” refers to the delivery of a copy of the summons and a copy of the complaint to each person who must respond.  The person who must respond to the complaint is known as the defendant (the person defending against the lawsuit). The delivery of court papers to a defendant is also known as “serving” a defendant.  

The summons tells the defendant:

  • the name and docket number of the court case,
  • the court where the case is filed,
  • the name and address of the plaintiff or plaintiff’s attorney,
  • what the defendant must do to respond,
  • how much time the defendant has to respond, and
  • what can happen if the defendant does not respond.  

The complaint tells the defendant what the lawsuit is about.  

Why you have to complete service of process

Generally, a civil lawsuit will not proceed in court unless a person knows s/he is being sued, knows what the lawsuit is about, and is given the chance to present his/her side to the court. If a plaintiff does not complete service of process according to the rules for each defendant, then each defendant who is not served may ask the court to dismiss the lawsuit, or the court on its own may dismiss the lawsuit. 

When you have to complete service of process

In most types of civil cases, a plaintiff has 90 days after s/he files the complaint with the court to complete “service of process” on each defendant.  If a plaintiff does not complete service of process within 90 days and cannot show the court good cause (good reason) why service was not completed, the court is allowed to dismiss the case against each defendant who is not served. If a plaintiff needs more than 90 days to complete service of process on a defendant, the plaintiff must go back to the court before the end of the 90 days and ask a judge to grant more time by filing a motion (a formal written request to the court) asking for additional time. 

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