Contesting False Service of Process & Preventing Sewer Service


“Sewer service” is a problem in Washington State as well as the rest of the country.  I would estimate about 90% of my clients were either falsely served or improperly served based on client interviews.

False service is the hardest to deal with because you did not even know it happened.  All of a sudden there is a garnishment and the money you might use to try to vacate the default judgment has been taken and the total amount is so low its almost not worth fighting.

Improper service is easier to handle if you find out about it.  Usually it is flung at your doorstep, left with a neighbor, or sent to an old address and someone tells you about it.  But generally you will constructively know about the lawsuit and have a chance to respond.

So lets start at the basics.  Proper service is governed by CR 4 (court rule 4) and RCW 4.28.080 (Revised Code of Washington) in Washington State Court and FRCP 4 (Federal Rules of Civil Procedure).  Other specialty courts and administrative courts may have different procedures but these are the big two.  As most collection claims are in state court and that is where sewer service is most rampant, lets start with CR 4 and RCW 4.28.080.  In short, to serve a person personally, you must serve

“The defendant personally, or by leaving a copy of the summons at the house of his or her usual abode with some person of suitable age and discretion then resident therein.”

See RCW 4.28.080(16).  Obviously not given the pleadings to a person at all or by just leaving them at the residence would not meet this definition.

The problem is a matter of evidence.  If a process server is willing to commit perjury, the court will assume this third party professional with no real skin in the game is telling the truth.  So if you happen to be inside your home with lights on and car parked and no alibi that you were anywhere else (such as a toll receipt, restaurant receipt, etc), you lose.  However, there are ways to fight this.

Techniques to prevent sewer service in the first place:


Evidence to Contest Service


Should you vacate the default judgment or counterclaim for consumer protection violations?

Maybe.  Even if service is improper, contesting it can often ramp up fees on both sides and could cost you more.  If your evidence is more of error (like wrong address) than fraud (where they fake even showing up) or if the amount in question is very low, it trends towards not vacating or counterclaiming.  But if the fraud is obvious or egregious and the amount is large, the math usually favors contesting and fighting.