The fascinating world of law has been the subject of countless films and television shows. From series like Suits and Better Call Saul to classic movies like My Cousin Vinny and The Paper Chase, American media has continued to tell stories based on the real-life challenges of legal work and practice. However, before the parties in a lawsuit can step into the courtroom, court documents must be served to the Defendant or Respondent named in the action. Although process serving may not have received the same level of representation in film and television as drama in courtrooms in North America, it is still nevertheless an aspect of the legal world that captures the imagination of writers and the public alike.
One movie that features process serving is Pineapple Express. This 2008 film follows Dale Denton, a process server and his marijuana dealer, Saul Silver, as they run from hitmen and a corrupt police officer after witnessing a murder. In the first few minutes, Dale Denton is introduced to the audience. Dale is shown opening the trunk of his car to reveal plastic containers of folded up shirts, pants, and peculiar accessories including sunglasses, hats, and an assortment of ties, belts, and bags. With his creativity and portable wardrobe, Dale approaches his job as a process server like a chameleon, changing costumes with each new service to blend into the environment. He delivers a subpoena to a woman at her residence claiming to be Garth, an employee from “Global Saviours”. In the next scene, Dale walks into an office dressed as a fax machine repairman to serve the defendant with papers regarding his Mastercard debt. Finally, he saunters into a hospital wearing a doctor’s white robe and stethoscope. Here, Dale delivers an envelope to a doctor who is just about to start an operation on his patient. As entertaining as these scenes may be, this film, and many media portrayals of process serving, greatly exaggerate the profession, which can lead to misconceptions about the work of a process server in reality.
Top three myths about process serving
Here are the top three myths about process serving which have been featured in film and television.
1. Process servers are masters of disguises.
It is highly unusual, and even illegal, for a process server to put on a disguise to deceive an individual for the purpose of process serving. Impersonating an employee of a delivery company is one matter, but to pretend to be a health professional or police officer is a criminal offence under Canadian law. Process servers do not set out with the intention of dramatically revealing the juicy details of the defendant’s legal matter, dropping an envelope of confidential documents in front of the individual, and then immediately exiting in a getaway vehicle with little to no interaction with the defendant.
Legal matters are highly confidential in nature and court documents contain sensitive information. Therefore, it is important for process servers to be professional, prompt, and respectful to those who receive documents. A process server would not lie about the purpose of their visit or pretend they are someone other than a process server whose job is to serve the documents on the right party.
2. Serving documents is an action-packed job.
High-speed car chases, stakeouts, stalking defendants, and fending off rabid guard dogs may be common in Hollywood depictions of process serving, but this is not so in reality. Yes, process serving involves investigation, such as researching an address for service and conducting online searches for the individual being served the documents. Process servers occasional meet emotional individuals or have unfortunate run-ins with aggressive dogs, however, process serving is not a string of dangerous encounters, one after another. A process server would not kick down a door to force a defendant to accept documents or make threats to an individual. Process servers are messengers who deliver important legal information, and they conduct themselves accordingly. They would not resort to extreme measures to relay this information to individuals.
3. Everyone tries to hide from process servers.
While it is true that there are some individuals who evade service, for the most part, defendants or respondents do not generally go out of their way to evade service by climbing out of windows or simply bolting out of a room at the sight of a process server. Process servers usually meet individuals who are understanding and cooperative.