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Service of process on military bases

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- Service of process refers to the procedure through which an individual receives notice that there is a pending lawsuit against them in a court of law. In the civilian world, this is accomplished in a variety of ways but is usually done by going to an individual’s place of residence and personally delivering paperwork related to a court case. When it comes to service of process on a military installation, the rules and procedures are a little different.

The United States Air Force cannot compel any member to accept service of process when they are present on base. To do so would be in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, a federal law that makes it illegal for commanders in the armed forces to use their authority to enforce civilian laws. The reasoning behind this is that civilian law enforcement is not a part of the armed force’s mission. These types of activities are best left in the hands of civilian, not military, authorities. This does not mean, however, that members of the armed forces, either working or living on an Air Force base, can use their status as an Airman to avoid accepting process in a civilian court.

Entry into a military installation is restrictive, which means only certain individuals possess the necessary credentials to gain access to a base. For that reason, civilian process servers must take additional steps in order to effect service upon a member of the Air Force. If a process server needs to make contact with an individual working or living on an Air Force base, they must go to the Visitor Center. Process Servers with Military Credentials cannot bypass this step. The Visitor Center Staff contacts the legal office to ensure the documents are valid. After making contact, a civilian process server can make arrangements to contact respective individuals on base and serve them. For the reasons stated previously involving the Posse Comitatus Act, security forces and the legal office can only act as intermediaries for a civilian process server in arranging for voluntary acceptance of process. This can include a member of security forces or the base legal office acting as a base escort for a civilian process server so they may attempt to serve the individual involved in the claim.

A fair, active, and efficient judicial system is vital in the United States. Service of process is one of the first steps in ensuring that this right is available to interested parties. While no one on base, whether it be a commander, security forces or the legal office, can force an individual to accept service of process, it is generally in everyone’s best interest to cooperate so that lawsuit can be resolved quickly and fairly. If you have any questions about service of process or related issues, please contact the Dover Legal Office at 677-3300.