Service of process is the procedure employed to give legal notice to a person of a court or administrative body’s exercise of its jurisdiction over that person to enable that person to respond to the proceeding before the court, body or other tribunal. Many states have process serving laws that govern the way service of process is effectuated such as the licensing requirements to effect service, the forms to be used and the time deadlines that service of process may be accomplished upon individual respondents and corporations. Proper service of process initially establishes personal jurisdiction of the court over the person served.
In an in personam admiralty action, jurisdiction over a nonresident may be obtained by service upon a designated agent. However, the mere presence of the defendant’s agent authorized to accept process does not, by itself, preclude attachment, since a defendant must be within the jurisdiction for jurisdictional purposes as well as for purpose of service of process.
Even though a defendant has designated an agent to receive process, the plaintiff may still treat the defendant as being absent from the district and proceed by means of a writ of maritime attachment where the agent is no longer at the stated address and cannot be reached with service. However, a vessel owner will not be “within the district” at the time an attachment is sought where the owner appoints an agent for service of process only after a motion for an order of attachment is filed.
The general rule of federal civil procedure which allows service of all process other than a subpoena anywhere within the territorial limits of the state in which the district court is held does not apply to service of admiralty in rem process, Since Federal Supplemental Admiralty Rules allow that process to be served only within the district in which the federal court is sitting. However, statewide service of ancillary process under the Federal Supplementary Admiralty Rules is permissible.
Maritime attachment and garnishment are similarly restricted to the district in which a federal court is sitting, although other in personam process may be statewide under the general Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In forfeiture cases, process in rem may be served within the district or outside the district when authorized by statute.