What do you do if you file for a restraining order but can’t find the person to serve them with court papers? Well, the California Court of Appeal just decided a case that raised that question. True story.
A woman named Queen had a couple bad encounters with a homeless guy named Michael Archangel, and she filed for a restraining order. The court granted her a temporary order that day and scheduled a hearing on whether to make it permanent. So far, so good.
Her problem was that she couldn’t get him served before the hearing. You see, by law, she had to serve him with the papers personally—meaning a sheriff’s deputy or a process server had to physically serve him in person—to ensure that he knew about the hearing and could respond to it. Because, you know, due process. But Mr. Archangel was homeless, and no one knew where he lived or how to find him.
Over the next six months, the court rescheduled the hearing four times to give her more time. From the start, she asked permission to serve him by social media because she said he followed her public posts on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. She wanted to serve him by posting the documents publicly on her accounts. She said she couldn’t serve him personally because he was evading it, and no one could find him.
Still, no dice. The court sympathized with her but held the law was clear: it required personal service. It did not allow a court to approve any alternatives, and the court could not rewrite the statute to say otherwise. So it dissolved the temporary order, dismissed her case, and advised her to file a new one if she needed to. Mr. Archangel, for his part, had taken the hint and disappeared. Although he was known around those parts, he hadn’t been seen or heard from in over six months.
It would’ve been interesting if Queen had some way to message Archangel directly like a phone number, email address, or social-media inbox. It may not have changed the outcome, but it would’ve been a closer call because she would’ve had a stronger argument that he had actual notice of the hearing. But this wasn’t that case.
So what can you do? Hire an investigator to find the person—or let us do it—and get them served.