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What Do I Need to File?

In order to initiate a lawsuit, you must file the original version of the following documents with the Court Clerk: 

These documents must be filed with the clerk’s office before they may be served on the judge and the opposing party. 

Visit the King County Superior Court Clerk’s website: https://www.kingcounty.gov/courts/clerk.aspx


What is Service of Process?


Service of Process Definition: 

    1. Giving court papers to the other party. 
    2. The formal delivery of a writ, summons, or other legal process, pleading, or notice to a litigant or other party interested in litigation; the legal communication of a judicial process (e.g., service by mail). 
    3. The official delivery of legal documents to opposing attorneys or parties. 

“Service of process” refers to providing the opposing party (or parties) with a copy of the Summons, Complaint, and Case Schedule Order. Service of process is governed by CR 4 and RCW 

In order to complete service of process, you must serve a conformed copy of the following documents on the opposing party: 

    • Summons 
    • Complaint 
    • Order setting Case Schedule (also know as the Case Schedule Order) 

The Summons and Complaint shall be served together. 

In Washington, you must always serve the opposing party in-person. The state of Washington requires personal service of the Summons, Complaint, and Case Schedule Order. 

In order to complete service of process, you must file a Proof of Personal Service form with the Court Clerk after you perform service of the documents listed above. 


If the defendant is a corporation 

If the defendant is a corporation or a company, the Summons, Complaint, and Case Schedule Order must be served on the “registered agent.” 

    • Frequently, a member of the company’s Board of Directors is the designated registered agent. They are usually served at the company’s address during  business hours. 
    • You can find registered agents and their office addresses by searching for the Corporation or Company name on the Washington Secretary of State Corporations website: https://www.sos.wa.gov/corps/. 


Who Can Serve 

Any competent person over the age of 18 who is not a party to the lawsuit (i.e. a third party) may serve process upon the opposing party. 

    • This means that you cannot provide service to the opposing party yourself, but you can get a friend to complete service. 
    • You may also hire a process server. 
    • For a fee, the Sheriff’s Civil Unit for the county in which you file your complaint will execute service of legal documents by the sheriff or sheriff’s deputy. Find information about service of process by the King County Sheriff’s Department here. 


Proof of Service 

You must provide proof of service to the court. 

    • If the sheriff serves process for you, the sheriff will complete and return the “Service Contact Information Sheet” to you. You must provide this form to the Sheriff’s office when you hire them to serve legal documents. You can find this form here. When service is complete and the form is returned to you, you must then file it with the Clerk’s Office. 
    • If a third party, such as a friend, serves process, you must have the person who served the legal documents sign and date a Proof of Personal Service form, return that completed form to you, and then you must file it with the Clerk’s Office.




What is a Complaint?

What is a Complaint?

    1. The first legal document filed in a civil lawsuit.
    2. The initial pleading that starts a civil action and states the basis for the court’s jurisdiction, the basis of the plaintiff’s claim, and the demand for relief.

It includes a statement of wrong or harm done to a plaintiff by the defendant and a request for a specific remedy from the court.

In family law cases, the complaint is called a petition.

The Complaint generally does not go into great detail, but only gives basic information about the alleged wrongdoing. Under CR 8(a), the only requirement for a Complaint is that it must contain: 

    1. A short and plain statement of the claim showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief, and 
    2. A demand for judgment for the relief claimed. 

CR 8(a) adds that relief in the alternative, or of several different types, may be demanded. Attachments or Exhibits can be included with the Complaint. 

What is a Summons?

What is a Summons?

    1. The document that informs the Defendant: (1) that a suit has been brought against him or her AND (b) when the Answer must be filed. 
    2. A writ or process commencing the Plaintiff’s action and requiring the Defendant to appear and Answer. 

The Summons notifies the Defendant(s) that a suit has been brought against them and sets forth when the Defendant’s Answer must be made. Notification is part of due process. 

    • The content of the Summons for personal service is specified by CR 4 (civil cases generally) and CR 4.1 (family law proceedings). 
    • See also CR 8 on the form and content of the Summons pleading. 

The Plaintiff must serve the Defendant with a copy of the Summons and Complaint within ninety (90) days of the date of filing with the Clerk’s Office. The statute of limitations is tolled at ninety (90) days from the date of filing with the court. See RCW 4.16.170; Jones v. Stebbins, 122 Wn.2d 471, 860 P.2d 1009 (1993); Martin v. Triol, 121 Wn.2d 135, 847 P.2d 471 (1993). 

For a Summons personally served in Washington, the specified response time is twenty (20) days from the date of receipt; the Defendant has twenty (20) days from the date of receipt to reply in the form of a Notice of Appearance or Answer. CR 12. 

For a Summons served outside the state of Washington, the specified response time is 60 days. CR 12 and RCW 4.28.180. 

    • However, if a nonresident defendant has appointed a registered agent to receive service of process in Washington, and the registered agent is served in Washington, the response time is 20 days, not 60 days. CR 12. 
    • Out-of-state corporations and many other entities doing business in Washington are required to name a registered agent for service of process in Washington. 

When service is by publication, the statutes require a special form of Summons with a response time of 60 days from the date of first publication. CR 12 and RCW 4.28.110. 

Summonses, Proof of Service, and related documents require standardized forms.