Rule 4. Process.

(a)        Summons - Issuance; who may serve. - Upon the filing of the complaint, summons shall be issued forthwith, and in any event within five days. The complaint and summons shall be delivered to some proper person for service. In this State, such proper person shall be the sheriff of the county where service is to be made or some other person duly authorized by law to serve summons. Outside this State, such proper person shall be anyone who is not a party and is not less than 21 years of age or anyone duly authorized to serve summons by the law of the place where service is to be made. Upon request of the plaintiff separate or additional summons shall be issued against any defendants. A summons is issued when, after being filled out and dated, it is signed by the officer having authority to do so. The date the summons bears shall be prima facie evidence of the date of issue.

(b)        Summons - Contents. - The summons shall run in the name of the State and be dated and signed by the clerk, assistant clerk, or deputy clerk of the court in the county in which the action is commenced. It shall contain the title of the cause and the name of the court and county wherein the action has been commenced. It shall be directed to the defendant or defendants and shall notify each defendant to appear and answer within 30 days after its service upon him and further that if he fails so to appear, the plaintiff will apply to the court for the relief demanded in the complaint. It shall set forth the name and address of plaintiff 's attorney, or if there be none, the name and address of plaintiff. If a request for admission is served with the summons, the summons shall so state.

(c)        Summons - Return. - Personal service or substituted personal service of summons as prescribed by Rules 4(j) and (j1) must be made within 60 days after the date of the issuance of summons. When a summons has been served upon every party named in the summons, it shall be returned immediately to the clerk who issued it, with notation thereon of its service.

Failure to make service within the time allowed or failure to return a summons to the clerk after it has been served on every party named in the summons shall not invalidate the summons. If the summons is not served within the time allowed upon every party named in the summons, it shall be returned immediately upon the expiration of such time by the officer to the clerk of the court who issued it with notation thereon of its nonservice and the reasons therefor as to every such party not served, but failure to comply with this requirement shall not invalidate the summons.

(d)       Summons - Extension; endorsement, alias and pluries. - When any defendant in a civil action is not served within the time allowed for service, the action may be continued in existence as to such defendant by either of the following methods of extension:

(1)        The plaintiff may secure an endorsement upon the original summons for an extension of time within which to complete service of process. Return of the summons so endorsed shall be in the same manner as the original process. Such endorsement may be secured within 90 days after the issuance of summons or the date of the last prior endorsement, or

(2)        The plaintiff may sue out an alias or pluries summons returnable in the same manner as the original process. Such alias or pluries summons may be sued out at any time within 90 days after the date of issue of the last preceding summons in the chain of summonses or within 90 days of the last prior endorsement.

Provided, in tax and assessment foreclosures under G.S. 47-108.25 and G.S. 105-374, the first endorsement may be made at any time within two years after the issuance of the original summons, and subsequent endorsements may thereafter be made as in other actions; or an alias or pluries summons may be sued out at any time within two years after the issuance of the original summons, and after the issuance of such alias or pluries summons, the chain of summonses may be kept up as in any other action.

Provided, for service upon a defendant in a place not within the United States, the first endorsement may be made at any time within two years after the issuance of the original summons, and subsequent endorsements may thereafter be made at least once every two years; or an alias or pluries summons may be sued out at any time within two years after the issuance of the original summons, and after the issuance of such alias or pluries summons, the chain of summonses may be kept up as in any other action if sued out within two years of the last preceding summons in the chain of summonses or within two years of the last prior endorsement.

Provided, further, the methods of extension may be used interchangeably in any case and regardless of the form of the preceding extension.

(e)        Summons - Discontinuance. - When there is neither endorsement by the clerk nor issuance of alias or pluries summons within the time specified in Rule 4(d), the action is discontinued as to any defendant not theretofore served with summons within the time allowed. Thereafter, alias or pluries summons may issue, or an extension be endorsed by the clerk, but, as to such defendant, the action shall be deemed to have commenced on the date of such issuance or endorsement.

(f)        Summons - Date of multiple summonses. - If the plaintiff shall cause separate or additional summonses to be issued as provided in Rule 4(a), the date of issuance of such separate or additional summonses shall be considered the same as that of the original summons for purposes of endorsement or alias summons under Rule 4(d).

(g)        Summons - Docketing by clerk. - The clerk shall keep a record in which he shall note the day and hour of issuance of every summons, whether original, alias, pluries, or endorsement thereon. When the summons is returned, the clerk shall note on the record the date of the return and the fact as to service or non-service.

(h)        Summons - When proper officer not available. - If at any time there is not in a county a proper officer, capable of executing process, to whom summons or other process can be delivered for service, or if a proper officer refuses or neglects to execute such process, or if such officer is a party to or otherwise interested in the action or proceeding, the clerk of the issuing court, upon the facts being verified before him by written affidavit of the plaintiff or his agent or attorney, shall appoint some suitable person who, after he accepts such process for service, shall execute such process in the same manner, with like effect, and subject to the same liabilities, as if such person were a proper officer regularly serving process in that county.

(h1)      Summons - When process returned unexecuted. - If a proper officer returns a summons or other process unexecuted, the plaintiff or his agent or attorney may cause service to be made by anyone who is not less than 21 years of age, who is not a party to the action, and who is not related by blood or marriage to a party to the action or to a person upon whom service is to be made. This subsection shall not apply to executions pursuant to Article 28 of Chapter 1 or summary ejectment pursuant to Article 3 of Chapter 42 of the General Statutes.

(i)         Summons - Amendment. - At any time, before or after judgment, in its discretion and upon such terms as it deems just, the court may allow any process or proof of service thereof to be amended, unless it clearly appears that material prejudice would result to substantial rights of the party against whom the process issued.

(j)         Process - Manner of service to exercise personal jurisdiction. -

In any action commenced in a court of this State having jurisdiction of the subject matter and grounds for personal jurisdiction as provided in G.S. 1-75.4, the manner of service of process within or without the State shall be as follows:

(1)        Natural Person. - Except as provided in subdivision (2) below, upon a natural person by one of the following:

a.         By delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to the natural person or by leaving copies thereof at the defendant's dwelling house or usual place of abode with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein.

b.         By delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to an agent authorized by appointment or by law to be served or to accept service of process or by serving process upon such agent or the party in a manner specified by any statute.

c.         By mailing a copy of the summons and of the complaint, registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, addressed to the party to be served, and delivering to the addressee.

d.         By depositing with a designated delivery service authorized pursuant to 26 U.S.C. 7502(f)(2) a copy of the summons and complaint, addressed to the party to be served, delivering to the addressee, and obtaining a delivery receipt. As used in this sub-subdivision, "delivery receipt" includes an electronic or facsimile receipt.

e.         By mailing a copy of the summons and of the complaint by signature confirmation as provided by the United States Postal Service, addressed to the party to be served, and delivering to the addressee.

(2)        Natural Person under Disability. - Upon a natural person under disability by serving process in any manner prescribed in this section (j) for service upon a natural person and, in addition, where required by paragraph a or b below, upon a person therein designated.

a.         Where the person under disability is a minor, process shall be served separately in any manner prescribed for service upon a natural person upon a parent or guardian having custody of the child, or if there be none, upon any other person having the care and control of the child. If there is no parent, guardian, or other person having care and control of the child when service is made upon the child, then service of process must also be made upon a guardian ad litem who has been appointed pursuant to Rule 17.

b.         If the plaintiff actually knows that a person under disability is under guardianship of any kind, process shall be served separately upon his guardian in any manner applicable and appropriate under this section (j). If the plaintiff does not actually know that a guardian has been appointed when service is made upon a person known to him to be incompetent to have charge of his affairs, then service of process must be made upon a guardian ad litem who has been appointed pursuant to Rule 17.

(3)        The State. - Upon the State by personally delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to the Attorney General or to a deputy or assistant attorney general; by mailing a copy of the summons and of the complaint, registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, addressed to the Attorney General or to a deputy or assistant attorney general; or by depositing with a designated delivery service authorized pursuant to 26 U.S.C. 7502(f)(2) a copy of the summons and complaint, addressed to the Attorney General or to a deputy or assistant attorney general, delivering to the addressee, and obtaining a delivery receipt. As used in this subdivision, "delivery receipt" includes an electronic or facsimile receipt.

(4)        An Agency of the State. -

a.         Upon an agency of the State by personally delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to the process agent appointed by the agency in the manner hereinafter provided; by mailing a copy of the summons and of the complaint, registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, addressed to said process agent; or by depositing with a designated delivery service authorized pursuant to 26 U.S.C. 7502(f)(2) a copy of the summons and complaint, addressed to the process agent, delivering to the addressee, and obtaining a delivery receipt. As used in this sub-subdivision, "delivery receipt" includes an electronic or facsimile receipt.

b.         Every agency of the State shall appoint a process agent by filing with the Attorney General the name and address of an agent upon whom process may be served.

c.         If any agency of the State fails to comply with paragraph b above, then service upon such agency may be made by personally delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to the Attorney General or to a deputy or assistant attorney general; by mailing a copy of the summons and of the complaint, registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, addressed to the Attorney General, or to a deputy or assistant attorney general; or by depositing with a designated delivery service authorized pursuant to 26 U.S.C. 7502(f)(2) a copy of the summons and complaint, addressed to the Attorney General or to a deputy or assistant attorney general, delivering to the addressee, and obtaining a delivery receipt. As used in this sub-subdivision, "delivery receipt" includes an electronic or facsimile receipt.

d.         For purposes of this rule, the term "agency of the State" includes every agency, institution, board, commission, bureau, department, division, council, member of Council of State, or officer of the State government of the State of North Carolina, but does not include counties, cities, towns, villages, other municipal corporations or political subdivisions of the State, county or city boards of education, other local public districts, units, or bodies of any kind, or private corporations created by act of the General Assembly.

(5)        Counties, Cities, Towns, Villages and Other Local Public Bodies. -

a.         Upon a city, town, or village by personally delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to its mayor, city manager or clerk; by mailing a copy of the summons and of the complaint, registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, addressed to its mayor, city manager or clerk; or by depositing with a designated delivery service authorized pursuant to 26 U.S.C. 7502(f)(2) a copy of the summons and complaint, addressed to the mayor, city manager, or clerk, delivering to the addressee, and obtaining a delivery receipt. As used in this sub-subdivision, "delivery receipt" includes an electronic or facsimile receipt.

b.         Upon a county by personally delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to its county manager or to the chairman, clerk or any member of the board of commissioners for such county; by mailing a copy of the summons and of the complaint, registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, addressed to its county manager or to the chairman, clerk, or any member of this board of commissioners for such county; or by depositing with a designated delivery service authorized pursuant to 26 U.S.C. 7502(f)(2) a copy of the summons and complaint, addressed to the county manager or to the chairman, clerk, or any member of the board of commissioners of that county, delivering to the addressee, and obtaining a delivery receipt. As used in this sub-subdivision, "delivery receipt" includes an electronic or facsimile receipt.

c.         Upon any other political subdivision of the State, any county or city board of education, or other local public district, unit, or body of any kind (i) by personally delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to an officer or director thereof, (ii) by personally delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to an agent or attorney-in-fact authorized by appointment or by statute to be served or to accept service in its behalf, (iii) by mailing a copy of the summons and of the complaint, registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, addressed to the officer, director, agent, or attorney-in-fact as specified in (i) and (ii), or (iv) by depositing with a designated delivery service authorized pursuant to 26 U.S.C. 7502(f)(2) a copy of the summons and complaint, addressed to the officer, director, agent, or attorney-in-fact as specified in (i) and (ii), delivering to the addressee, and obtaining a delivery receipt. As used in this sub-subdivision, "delivery receipt" includes an electronic or facsimile receipt.

d.         In any case where none of the officials, officers or directors specified in paragraphs a, b and c can, after due diligence, be found in the State, and that fact appears by affidavit to the satisfaction of the court, or a judge thereof, such court or judge may grant an order that service upon the party sought to be served may be made by personally delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to the Attorney General or any deputy or assistant attorney general of the State of North Carolina; by mailing a copy of the summons and of the complaint, registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, addressed to the Attorney General or any deputy or assistant attorney general of the State of North Carolina; or by depositing with a designated delivery service authorized pursuant to 26 U.S.C. 7502(f)(2) a copy of the summons and complaint, addressed to the Attorney General or any deputy or assistant attorney general of the State of North Carolina, delivering to the addressee, and obtaining a delivery receipt. As used in this sub-subdivision, "delivery receipt" includes an electronic or facsimile receipt.

(6)        Domestic or Foreign Corporation. - Upon a domestic or foreign corporation by one of the following:

a.         By delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to an officer, director, or managing agent of the corporation or by leaving copies thereof in the office of such officer, director, or managing agent with the person who is apparently in charge of the office.

b.         By delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to an agent authorized by appointment or by law to be served or to accept service of process or by serving process upon such agent or the party in a manner specified by any statute.

c.         By mailing a copy of the summons and of the complaint, registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, addressed to the officer, director or agent to be served as specified in paragraphs a and b.

d.         By depositing with a designated delivery service authorized pursuant to 26 U.S.C. 7502(f)(2) a copy of the summons and complaint, addressed to the officer, director, or agent to be served as specified in paragraphs a. and b., delivering to the addressee, and obtaining a delivery receipt. As used in this sub-subdivision, "delivery receipt" includes an electronic or facsimile receipt.

(7)        Partnerships. - Upon a general or limited partnership:

a.         By delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to any general partner, or to any attorney-in-fact or agent authorized by appointment or by law to be served or to accept service of process in its behalf; by mailing a copy of the summons and of the complaint, registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, addressed to any general partner, or to any attorney-in-fact or agent authorized by appointment or by law to be served or to accept service of process in its behalf; or by depositing with a designated delivery service authorized pursuant to 26 U.S.C. 7502(f)(2) a copy of the summons and complaint, addressed to any general partner or to any attorney-in-fact or agent authorized by appointment or by law to be served or to accept service of process in its behalf, delivering to the addressee, and obtaining a delivery receipt; or by leaving copies thereof in the office of such general partner, attorney-in-fact or agent with the person who is apparently in charge of the office. As used in this sub-subdivision, "delivery receipt" includes an electronic or facsimile receipt.

b.         If relief is sought against a partner specifically, a copy of the summons and of the complaint must be served on such partner as provided in this section (j).

(8)        Other Unincorporated Associations and Their Officers. - Upon any unincorporated association, organization, or society other than a partnership by one of the following:

a.         By delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to an officer, director, managing agent or member of the governing body of the unincorporated association, organization or society, or by leaving copies thereof in the office of such officer, director, managing agent or member of the governing body with the person who is apparently in charge of the office.

b.         By delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to an agent authorized by appointment or by law to be served or to accept service of process or by serving process upon such agent or the party in a manner specified by any statute.

c.         By mailing a copy of the summons and of the complaint, registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, addressed to the officer, director, agent or member of the governing body to be served as specified in paragraphs a and b.

d.         By depositing with a designated delivery service authorized pursuant to 26 U.S.C. 7502(f)(2) a copy of the summons and complaint, addressed to the officer, director, agent, or member of the governing body to be served as specified in paragraphs a. and b., delivering to the addressee, and obtaining a delivery receipt. As used in this sub-subdivision, "delivery receipt" includes an electronic or facsimile receipt.

(9)        Foreign States and Their Political Subdivisions, Agencies, and Instrumentalities. - Upon a foreign state or a political subdivision, agency, or instrumentality thereof, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1608.

(j1)       Service by publication on party that cannot otherwise be served. - A party that cannot with due diligence be served by personal delivery, registered or certified mail, or by a designated delivery service authorized pursuant to 26 U.S.C. 7502(f)(2) may be served by publication. Except in actions involving jurisdiction in rem or quasi in rem as provided in section (k), service of process by publication shall consist of publishing a notice of service of process by publication once a week for three successive weeks in a newspaper that is qualified for legal advertising in accordance with G.S. 1-597 and G.S. 1-598 and circulated in the area where the party to be served is believed by the serving party to be located, or if there is no reliable information concerning the location of the party then in a newspaper circulated in the county where the action is pending. If the party's post-office address is known or can with reasonable diligence be ascertained, there shall be mailed to the party at or immediately prior to the first publication a copy of the notice of service of process by publication. The mailing may be omitted if the post-office address cannot be ascertained with reasonable diligence. Upon completion of such service there shall be filed with the court an affidavit showing the publication and mailing in accordance with the requirements of G.S. 1-75.10(a)(2), the circumstances warranting the use of service by publication, and information, if any, regarding the location of the party served.

The notice of service of process by publication shall (i) designate the court in which the action has been commenced and the title of the action, which title may be indicated sufficiently by the name of the first plaintiff and the first defendant; (ii) be directed to the defendant sought to be served; (iii) state either that a pleading seeking relief against the person to be served has been filed or has been required to be filed therein not later than a date specified in the notice; (iv) state the nature of the relief being sought; (v) require the defendant being so served to make defense to such pleading within 40 days after a date stated in the notice, exclusive of such date, which date so stated shall be the date of the first publication of notice, or the date when the complaint is required to be filed, whichever is later, and notify the defendant that upon his failure to do so the party seeking service of process by publication will apply to the court for the relief sought; (vi) in cases of attachment, state the information required by G.S. 1-440.14; (vii) be subscribed by the party seeking service or his attorney and give the post-office address of such party or his attorney; and (viii) be substantially in the following form:

NOTICE OF SERVICE OF PROCESS BY PUBLICATION

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA ____________COUNTY

 

In the __________________ Court

 

[Title of action or special proceeding] [To Person to be served]:

Take notice that a pleading seeking relief against you (has been filed) (is required to be filed not later than ___________, ____) in the above-entitled (action) (special proceeding). The nature of the relief being sought is as follows:

(State nature.)

You are required to make defense to such pleading not later than (__________, ____) and upon your failure to do so the party seeking service against you will apply to the court for the relief sought.

This, the _______ day of ____________, ____

                                                                                           (Attorney) (Party)

                                                                                           (Address)

(j2)       Proof of service. - Proof of service of process shall be as follows:

(1)        Personal Service. - Before judgment by default may be had on personal service, proof of service must be provided in accordance with the requirements of G.S. 1-75.10(a)(1).

(2)        Registered or Certified Mail, Signature Confirmation, or Designated Delivery Service. - Before judgment by default may be had on service by registered or certified mail, signature confirmation, or by a designated delivery service authorized pursuant to 26 U.S.C. 7502(f)(2) with delivery receipt, the serving party shall file an affidavit with the court showing proof of such service in accordance with the requirements of G.S. 1-75.10(a)(4), 1-75.10(a)(5), or 1-75.10(a)(6), as appropriate. This affidavit together with the return receipt, copy of the proof of delivery provided by the United States Postal Service, or delivery receipt, signed by the person who received the mail or delivery if not the addressee raises a presumption that the person who received the mail or delivery and signed the receipt was an agent of the addressee authorized by appointment or by law to be served or to accept service of process or was a person of suitable age and discretion residing in the addressee's dwelling house or usual place of abode. In the event the presumption described in the preceding sentence is rebutted by proof that the person who received the receipt at the addressee's dwelling house or usual place of abode was not a person of suitable age and discretion residing therein, the statute of limitation may not be pleaded as a defense if the action was initially commenced within the period of limitation and service of process is completed within 60 days from the date the service is declared invalid. Service shall be complete on the day the summons and complaint are delivered to the address. As used in this subdivision, "delivery receipt" includes an electronic or facsimile receipt provided by a designated delivery service.

(3)        Publication. - Before judgment by default may be had on service by publication, the serving party shall file an affidavit with the court showing the circumstances warranting the use of service by publication, information, if any, regarding the location of the party served which was used in determining the area in which service by publication was printed and proof of service in accordance with G.S. 1-75.10(a)(2).

(j3)       Service in a foreign country. - Unless otherwise provided by federal law, service upon a defendant, other than an infant or an incompetent person, may be effected in a place not within the United States:

(1)        By any internationally agreed means reasonably calculated to give notice, such as those means authorized by the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents; or

(2)        If there is no internationally agreed means of service or the applicable international agreement allows other means of service, provided that service is reasonably calculated to give notice:

a.         In the manner prescribed by the law of the foreign country for service in that country in an action in any of its courts of general jurisdiction;

b.         As directed by the foreign authority in response to a letter rogatory or letter of request; or

c.         Unless prohibited by the law of the foreign country, by

1.         Delivery to the individual personally of a copy of the summons and the complaint and, upon a corporation, partnership, association or other such entity, by delivery to an officer or a managing or general agent;

2.         Any form of mail requiring a signed receipt, to be addressed and dispatched by the clerk of the court to the party to be served; or

(3)        By other means not prohibited by international agreement as may be directed by the court.

Service under subdivision (2)c.1. or (3) of this subsection may be made by any person authorized by subsection (a) of this Rule or who is designated by order of the court or by the foreign court.

On request, the clerk shall deliver the summons to the plaintiff for transmission to the person or the foreign court or officer who will make the service. Proof of service may be made as prescribed in G.S. 1-75.10, by the order of the court, or by the law of the foreign country.

Proof of service by mail shall include an affidavit or certificate of addressing and mailing by the clerk of court.

(j4)       Process or judgment by default not to be attacked on certain grounds. - No party may attack service of process or a judgment of default on the basis that service should or could have been effected by personal service rather than service by registered or certified mail. No party that receives timely actual notice may attack a judgment by default on the basis that the statutory requirement of due diligence as a condition precedent to service by publication was not met.

(j5)       Personal jurisdiction by acceptance of service. - Any party personally, or through the persons provided in Rule 4(j), may accept service of process by notation of acceptance of service together with the signature of the party accepting service and the date thereof on an original or copy of a summons, and such acceptance shall have the same force and effect as would exist had the process been served by delivery of copy and summons and complaint to the person signing said acceptance.

(j6)       Service by electronic mailing not authorized. - Nothing in subsection (j) of this section authorizes the use of electronic mailing for service on the party to be served.

(k)        Process - Manner of service to exercise jurisdiction in rem or quasi in rem. - In any action commenced in a court of this State having jurisdiction of the subject matter and grounds for the exercise of jurisdiction in rem or quasi in rem as provided in G.S. 1-75.8, the manner of service of process shall be as follows:

(1)        Defendant Known. - If the defendant is known, he may be served in the appropriate manner prescribed for service of process in section (j), or, if otherwise appropriate section (j1); except that the requirement for service by publication in (j1) shall be satisfied if made in the county where the action is pending and proof of service is made in accordance with section (j2).

(2)        Defendant Unknown. - If the defendant is unknown, he may be designated by description and process may be served by publication in the manner provided in section (j1), except that the requirement for service by publication in (j1) shall be satisfied if made in the county where the action is pending and proof of service is made in accordance with section (j2).  (1967, c. 954, s. 1; 1969, c. 895, ss. 1-4; 1971, c. 962; c. 1156, s. 2; 1975, cc. 408, 609; 1977, c. 910, ss. 1-3; 1981, c. 384, s. 3; c. 540, ss. 1-8; 1983, c. 679, ss. 1, 2; 1989, c. 330; c. 575, ss. 1, 2; 1995, c. 275, s. 1; c. 389, ss. 2, 3; c. 509, s. 135.1(e), (f); 1997-469, s. 1; 1999-456, s. 59; 2001-379, ss. 1, 2, 2.1, 2.2; 2005-221, ss. 1, 2; 2008-36, ss. 1-3, 5; 2011-332, s. 3.1.)