What is service?  Service is the act of providing documents to the required people (usually, the other parties or their lawyers) involved in a legal matter.  The general purpose of service is fairness. The goal is to be sure that everyone knows what is going on in the case, and that everyone has an opportunity to prepare and respond.  However, the rules are specific, and a case can be lost due to improper service.  There are two main contexts for service, which are described below:



What is it?

1. “Service of process”

Must happen when you first bring someone into a case

For example, serving the defendant with your complaint

Service of process means providing someone with a copy of the “original pleading” (for example, the complaint) that you filed in court, as well as the summons from the court.  Until someone is served with process, they are not part of the case at all. 

With service of process, you first file the pleading, and then have the copy (and the summons) served.

No “certificate of service” is required at the time of filing your original pleading.  Rather, you will later have to prove that the other parties were served in the right way.  For more information about service of process, see Frequently Asked Questions About "Service of Process"

2. Ongoing “service” of documents during the case.

This happens throughout the case

For example, serving the defendant with a motion you file

The second context for service comes after the other person (or company) has been served with process.  From then on, you generally need to provide them with copies of all the documents you file in the court.

At this stage of service, you must first serve a copy of the document (which may be as simple as placing it in the mail), and then you file the original with the court.

When you file the original, the court will require a “certificate of service.”

What is a certificate of service?  A certificate of service is a signed document in which you state that you made sure that the appropriate people were given or sent copies of the document you are filing.  With very few exceptions, any time you file a document in court (other than an original pleading), you have to submit a certificate of service with the filing.  One frequent reason that clerk's offices have to reject filings is that people do not include a valid certificate of service.

Here are the steps for filing a certificate of service:


1. Be sure that each other party in the case (or the attorney of each represented party) is served with a copy of what you filed.  For any party who is represented in the case by a limited appearance attorney, you must be sure that BOTH the party and the limited appearance attorney are served with a copy of what you filed.  If the appearance of the limited appearance attorney has been stricken (meaning that that attorney is now officially out of the case) that limited appearance attorney does not need to be served with copies of new filings.


2. Fill out, sign, and submit a certificate of service to the clerk, including each of the parts below.  (Click here for a blank certificate of service.)


a. State that a copy of the document was served on each recipient, and list the name and address of each recipient;


b. State the manner in which each was served (for example, by hand; by first-class mail, postage prepaid; by certified mail; or by another specified method);


c. Include the date on which service was made.  If service was made by mailing a copy, this will be the date that the copy was put in the mail.

  Checkbox c. Sign the certificate of service.


Read the Rule: Maryland Rule 1-323 (“Proof of Service”)

The clerk shall not accept for filing any pleading or other paper requiring service, other than an original pleading, unless it is accompanied by an admission or waiver of service or a signed certificate showing the date and manner of making service. A certificate of service is prima facie proof of service.

The original pleading is generally the initial Complaint and any Counter-Complaint or Third-Party Complaint. Service for everything after an original pleading can be accomplished by simply mailing the papers to the other parties in the case or, if a party is represented, that party’s attorney.  See Maryland Rule 1-321 below.  

Read the Rule: Maryland Rule 1-321 (“Service of Pleadings and Papers other than Original Pleadings”)

(a) Generally. Except as otherwise provided in these rules or by order of court, every pleading and other paper filed after the original pleading shall be served upon each of the parties. If service is required or permitted to be made upon a party represented by an attorney, service shall be made upon the attorney unless service upon the party is ordered by the court. Service upon the attorney or upon a party shall be made by delivery of a copy or by mailing it to the address most recently stated in a pleading or paper filed by the attorney or party, or if not stated, to the last known address. Delivery of a copy within this Rule means: handing it to the attorney or to the party; or leaving it at the office of the person to be served with an individual in charge; or, if there is no one in charge, leaving it in a conspicuous place in the office; or, if the office is closed or the person to be served has no office, leaving it at the dwelling house or usual place of abode of that person with some individual of suitable age and discretion who is residing there. Service by mail is complete upon mailing.

(b) Service After Entry of Limited Appearance. Every document required to be served upon a party's attorney that is to be served after entry of a limited appearance also shall be served upon the party and, unless the attorney's appearance has been stricken pursuant to Rules 2-132 or 3-132, upon the limited appearance attorney.
Cross reference: See Rule 1-324 with respect to the sending of notices by a clerk when a limited appearance has been entered.
(c) Party in Default--Exception. No pleading or other paper after the original pleading need be served on a party in default for failure to appear except a pleading asserting a new or additional claim for relief against the party which shall be served in accordance with the rules for service of original process.
(d) Requests to Clerk--Exception. A request directed to the clerk for the issuance of process or any writ need not be served on any party.


There are times when you do not need to give the clerk a certificate of service in order to file papers.  The most common exception is when you are filing an “original pleading” like a complaint.  When you file a complaint, the clerk’s office will create a summons.  You must make sure that the summons and a copy of the complaint are served to the defendant, AFTER you file the complaint.

Also, after the original pleading (for example, the complaint) you do not necessarily need to serve additional papers on a party who is in default for failure to appear.  However, if you are making a new or further claim for relief against the party, you must serve the party as you would with an original pleading.


edits by Regina Strait, Esq.

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