Monday, February 5, 2024

Eastern Federal District Court Gives Lessons in Alternative Service of Process in Federal Court

In the case of Allstate Vehicle and Property Ins. Co. v. Top Line Builders, LLC, No. 2:23-CV-03974-TJS (E.D. Pa. Dec. 20, 2023 Savage, J.), the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled, in a property damage action pursued by a Plaintiff insurance company, that the Plaintiff’s request to serve a Defendant in an alternative manner by posting a copy of the Summons and the Complaint at its business premises would be denied.

The court noted that, under F.R.C.P. 4(h)(1)(B), a corporation must be served “by delivering a copy of the Summons and of the Complaint to an officer, manager, or general agent, or any other agent authorized by appointment or by law to receive service of process and-if the agent is one authorized by statute and the statute so requires-by also mailing a copy of each to the defendant....”

The court additionally noted that, under F.R.C.P. 4(h)(1)(A), a corporation may be served “in the manner prescribed by Rule 4(e)(1) for serving an individual.” 

In federal court, an individual may be served by either delivering copies of the Summons and the Complaint personally to the Defendant, leaving copies with someone of suitable age who resides at the individual's dwelling or usual place abode, or by delivering copies of the Defendant’s authorized agent. F.R.C.P. 4(e)(2)(A)-(C).

The federal court noted that there is no federal civil rule providing for alternative service. However, under Rule 4(e)(1), any method of service allowed by the state in which the judicial district is located is permitted.

The court noted that, under Pennsylvania State Rule of Civil Procedure 430, alternative service is allowed if the Plaintiff makes a Motion to the Court and secures a special Order allowing for alternative method of service.

The federal court noted that Rule 430 does not explicitly identify the prerequisites for obtaining an Order for alternative service. However, it was noted that the Rule requires the Plaintiff to submit “an affidavit stating the nature and extent of the investigation which has been made to determine the whereabouts of the Defendant and the reasons why service cannot be made.” The federal court noted that, “implicit in this requirement is that the Plaintiff has an obligation to make a good faith effort to locate the Defendant and a practical effort to serve the Defendant.”

In this case, the court found that Allstate failed to meet its burden to demonstrate that it made a practical effort to complete service on the Defendant.

More specifically, the court noted that Allstate had not shown that personal service upon the Defendants could not be made.

According to the Opinion, Allstate searched the Pennsylvania Department of State’s Business Entity database and the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney’s General Licensed Contractor search mechanism. Allstate additionally conducted internet searches and, through these various searches, located a street address for the particular Defendant at issue.

Allstate then attempted service at that street address but could not confirm that the particular Defendant or its primary agent was located at that address.

According to the Opinion, the process servicer retained by Allstate made three (3) attempts to serve the Defendant, all on the same day of the week in different weeks.   It was additionally noted that two (2) of the attempts were made at the same time of day, between the hours of 5 and 8 p.m. The court found that these efforts failed to demonstrate that personal service could not be made.

The court otherwise denied Allstate’s Motion to Serve the Defendant by the Alternative Method of posting a copy of the Summons and the Complaint at the business street address.

The court concluded that the Plaintiff had failed to demonstrate that it had made sufficient practical efforts to serve the Defendant in person. The court noted that the Plaintiff’s efforts to actually locate an address for the Defendant were sufficient, but that the Plaintiff's effort to complete service could have been better given that the Plaintiff had a duty to show that it made practical efforts to complete that service after identifying a location for service.

The federal court stated that, generally, this requires a showing of multiple attempts to effectuate personal service. The court stated that the timing and the days on which the attempts to complete service are made are important factors in determination of whether the attempts at service will be considered to be sufficient.

As noted above, the court found that the Plaintiff’s efforts were insufficient and the Motion for Alternative Service was, therefore, denied.

At the conclusion of its Opinion, the court did not otherwise offer any advice or indication as to how service should be completed.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.  The Court's companion Order can be viewed HERE.

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (Jan. 15, 2024).

Source of image:  Photo by Arturo D on

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