29 April 2014

Difficulties in Serving Documents on Private Mailboxes (CMRA) in California

Over the last 6 years we have experienced several different types challenging services. One questions I am asked often by clients about process serving is can we serve the documents on someone even if they only have a private mailbox? The answer is generally yes, but this all depends on the type of documents you are serving. When I first started serving documents in San Diego I had to do great research on this subject to educate myself. What I found was a civil code that relates to this subject, 415.20(a) says that “In lieu of personal delivery of a copy of the summons and complaint to the person to be served as specified in Section 416.10, 416.20, 416.30, 416.40, or 416.50, a summons may be served by leaving a copy of the summons and complaint during usual office hours in his or her office or, if no physical address is known, at his or her usual mailing address, other than a United States Postal Service post office box, with the person who is apparently in charge thereof…” ¬†This basically says that if you have a document that can be sub-served it may be sub-served at a private mail box, such as a UPS Store Box, Postal Annex, Pakmail etc. There are however only certain documents that can be sub-served. Some of the more common documents we serve at Private Mail Boxes are Standard California Summons and Complaints, and Sc-100 Plaintiffs Claim and Order to go to Small Claims. The documents we often can’t serve at private mailboxes are FL-300 Order to Show Cause, Small Claims Subpoenas, Orders for Examination, Restraining Orders, California Subpoenas for Business Records and Personal Appearance to name a few.

This also answers a common questions we receive from our clients in San Diego, can I serve a PO Box? This code exempts United States Postal Service Post Office Boxes from being able to receive service. So no, there is no possible way to serve a PO Box or a Post Office with the documents. We have however seen recently that some pilot programs in California at Post Offices have allowed PO Box holders to begin to receive mail from other carriers and are now signing for packages for their PO Box holders. If this program expands we imagine that the laws in California may need to be modified to allow for service at PO Boxes and Post Offices.

One common misconception is that service can not be made once a Private Mailbox is closed. According to California Business and Professions Code 17538.5 (d)1 “Every person receiving private mailbox receiving service from a CMRA in this state shall be required to sign an agreement, along with a USPS Form 1583, which authorizes the CMRA owner or operator to act as agent for service of process for the mail receiving service customer. Every CMRA owner or operator shall be required to accept service of process for and on behalf of any of their mail receiving service customers, and for two years after termination of any mail receiving service customer agreement. Upon receipt of any process for any mailbox service customer, the CMRA owner or operator shall (A) within 48 hours after receipt of any process, place a copy of the documents or a notice that the documents were received into the customer’s mailbox or other place where the customer usually receives his or her mail, unless the mail receiving service for the customer was previously terminated, and (B) within five days after receipt, send all documents by first-class mail, to the last known home or personal address of the mail receiving service customer. The CMRA shall obtain a certificate of mailing in connection with the mailing of the documents. Service of process upon the mail receiving service customer shall then be deemed perfected 10 days after the date of mailing.” This California Business and Professions Code allows for a Process Server to serve a document on a Private Mail Box even two years after the mailbox has been closed. This little known code and often rarely used code has come in very handy in many situations. When we have been attempting to serve evasive defendants/servees we have been able to use this code to effectuate service.

For example several sears ago I was attempting to serve a defendant with a Summons and Complaint, they had a mail box in South County San Diego, but the Mail Box store informed me his box had been closed for the last year. I showed them the California Business and Professions Code and they followed the code and we were able to effectuate service even though the defendant had possibly moved abroad making it nearly impossible to serve him.

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