The act of serving legal documents to a service member stationed at Camp Pendleton is unique, requiring specific knowledge and expertise. In this article, we'll take a closer look at the challenges of serving papers on active military and explore some strategies for successfully serving papers to military personnel as well as civilians who work or live at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base.
If you are in this situation and in need of additional assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us at (949) 313-7030.
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The main challenge to process serving on a military base is getting onto the base to begin with. Military Police (MPs) will not simply allow Orange County Registered Process Servers through the gates. This is primarily to prevent any interference with the duties of the Marine Corps, but also due to security concerns on the base. In fact, the MPs will do almost nothing to assist the server, as the scope of their assignment when working the gates is purely centered on guarding against unauthorized access. At most, they will allow the server to park at the gate and attempt to contact the subject by phone, while holding onto the server’s ID. While this might be frustrating for some process servers, it is important to understand that these measures are in place for good reasons, and effective service is still possible.
Eliciting Cooperation at the Gate - The Best Way to Serve Legal Documents at Camp Pendleton
The preferred strategy for serving papers to military personnel stationed at Camp Pendleton is to call the subject on the phone and arrange a time for them to meet the process server outside of the Military installation, at either the San Onofre or Oceanside entrance gate. Provided the subject is open to communication, coordinating to meet with them off-base is largely more time-efficient than navigating onto the base at all. However, eliciting this cooperation short of direct contact with the Marine often requires some significant maneuvering through the phones, and knowledge of their operations. If the subject Marine’s specific battalion is known, the process server can get into contact with the battalion’s duty officer, who ideally will contact the Marine. If instead the duty officer is readily familiar with the proper protocol for service of process, they will immediately contact the Marine’s commanding officer.
The law requires that the commanding officer consent to the service of legal documents on their subordinate before service can be effected. Despite this, the law also provides that, “the command ordinarily should not prevent service of process so long as delivery is made in accordance with reasonable command regulations and is consistent with good order and discipline” (32 CFR § 720.20(a)(1)).
What typically gets the ball rolling is explaining to the commanding officer the indispensable nature of the process server’s visit. Compelling this visit, is the “jurisdictionally critical and constitutionally mandated” requirement to notify parties of the commencement to any legal action (Teppler, S.W. 2011). Further, it can be helpful to describe to the commanding officer the increased potential for entering default judgment against the subordinate Marine, as a result of their obstructing the lawful notification of subordinate personnel by personal service. By such action, command opens the door to alternative and lesser diligent methods of service (such as publication or posting). Yet, if consent to serve papers is refused, the commanding officer is mandated by law to formally document this refusal accordingly, “Where service of process is not permitted, a report of such refusal and the reasons therefor shall be made by telephone, or message if telephone is impractical, to the Judge Advocate General or the Associate General Counsel (Litigation), as appropriate” (32 CFR § 720.20(e)).
Dealing with Uncooperative Military Personnel – The Office of the Base Magistrate Escort Procedure
If a subject is uncooperative on the phone or evading service at their residence on base, the best option for serving papers is to utilize use the Office of the Base Magistrate escort procedure. This method does not require a DBIDS credential, but it does require a formal progression, coordinating with the Office of the Base Magistrate. Not only does this procedure work for active personnel, but another benefit is the law also accounts for military spouses or their children, and any civilian employees or civilian contractors located within the installation. “If the civilian does not cooperate, the process server may be escorted to the location of the civilian in order that process may be served. A civilian may be required to leave a classified area in order that the process server may have access to the civilian” (32 CFR § 720.20(a)(1)).
The legislative intent of the escort statute serves to promote expediency in the judicial process while preserving conduct and decorum becoming of the armed forces, given that “an appropriate location should be designated (for example, the command legal office) where the process server and the member or employee can meet privately in order that process may be served away from the workplace. A member may be directed to report to the designated location” (32 CFR § 720.20(a)(1)). The subject is afforded one or two chances to cooperate with the service of process before the escort procedure is initiated without warning.
Escorted Visit: Step by Step Procedure to Obtain a Military Escort
1. The process server calls the Office of the Base Magistrate at (760) 725-6408 and speaks to the clerk about the difficulties experienced in effecting service and sends all the following via email:
- Name of the subject active-duty member or civilian along with the subject’s contact information;
- The process server’s name, phone number, and county registration number;
- Three possible times and dates the server is available to be escorted onto the base;
- A scanned copy of the legal documents attached to the email.
2. After receiving this information, the Base Magistrate will contact the subject and tell them to appear in their office at one of the dates and times selected by the process server, often within a week.
3. At the scheduled time, the process server will meet a clerk from the Base Magistrate at one of the installation gates (either the San Onofre Gate or the Oceanside Main Gate) and receive an escort to the office located at Building 22161, Camp Pendleton North, CA 92055.
4. Upon arrival at the office, the server delivers the papers to the subject in the lobby of the office while video and audio recording and witnessed by the clerk, unless otherwise directed.
5. The process server leaves the base (usually unescorted at this point), then creates a proof of service.
Unescorted Visit: Acquire a DBIDS Credential (Defense Biometric Identification System) at the Visitor Center
* As of March 4th, 2020, the COVID pandemic has impacted the following method, and we are currently only meeting subjects outside of the base gates or by Base Magistrate escort. *
The final strategy for serving papers to military personnel stationed at Camp Pendleton is to acquire a DBIDS Credential (Defense Biometric Identification System) at the Camp Pendleton Visitor Center. This is one method of gaining access to the installation, but it is by far the most time-consuming; Slower with regard to the amount of additional paperwork and waiting time to grant the credential, but also from a process serving standpoint. Beyond the usual difficulties of serving papers, the server needs to drive through the extensive land area of the base (where posted speed limits are more moderate than regular urbans area for similar narrow roads with thinly distributed buildings and residences), then proceed with diligent attempts at knocking on the door of the subject’s residence and/or speaking to neighbors to narrow down possible days and times where the individual may be located.