I am a judgment broker, not a lawyer, and this article is my opinion, please consult with a lawyer if you need legal advice. This article only covers how a judgment debtor’s actual address might be discovered so a process server can serve legal papers on them.
USPS boxes and Private Mail Boxes (PMBs) are becoming more and more popular, the main reasons are because they help people increase their personal privacy and safety. People want privacy, especially people that owe money on civil judgments.
More and more, people are using private post office box stores such as The UPS Store, because they usually have more features at a better price than the USPS post office offers.
Some judgment debtors go to great lengths to live “off the grid” and they try to make only their post office box, show up on any public record data searches.
To recover a judgment, often you must personally serve the debtor to compel them and sometimes third-parties, to appear in court, to try to discover information that may lead to the judgment debtor’s available assets.
When a judgment debtor goes to great lengths to hide behind a PO box or a PMB, one usually must hire someone to find the debtor’s other (physical) address, hopefully the address that the debtor lives at.
To find this information, you can either hire a private investigator or a lawyer, or you can save money and hire a process server. The only reason you can get this private information from a process server is for the service of legal process. Note that in many states, for example California, there is a statutory delay (usually 10-15 days) before the court will decide that service was properly completed.
If you want to find a lost love, missing relative, lost friend, etc, you must hire a licensed private investigator. If you only need to be able to serve legal papers on someone, by hiring a process server, then the laws allow the process server to find the debtor for the purpose of serving them legal papers.
Most people cannot do this themselves, however the information here may help readers be better informed and prepared. One can save money by hiring a process server, or one can hire a lawyer or a private investigator.
Disclosure of a postal customer’s name and address is regulated by the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 39, Part 265. There are specific exceptions to the disclosure rules for “persons empowered to serve process” [39 CFR section 265.6(d)(5)(ii)] and in compliance with duly issued subpoenas [39 CFR section 265.6(d)(5)(iii)]. If one is not “empowered to serve process”, one must use a subpoena to obtain that information.
Registered Process Servers obtain physical addresses of box-holders with a form meeting the format requirements of 39 CFR section 265.6(d)(5)(ii). In theory, improper use of that form to obtain box-holder information subjects the violator to possible criminal penalties of up to $10,000 and/or 5 years in jail (as per 18 U.S.C. section 1001). Use of this form requires the requester to cite the statute that empowers the person to serve process, which is: [39 CFR section 265.6(d)(5)(ii)(B)].
Business And Professions code section 17538.5(d)(3) provides that when the judgment creditor presents a certified copy of a judgment, that means the PMB business must disclose the last known address of the customer named in the subpoena served on the PMB.
When one opens a private mailbox (“PMB”) at a CMRA, one signs a form (a requirement of the US Postal Service that the owner or operator of the CMRA outlet (usually franchisees of whichever company name appears on the sign outside) that appoints the owner or operator of the CMRA as the agent for service of process, as per Business And Professions Code section 17583.5, subdivision (d)(1), which states, in relevant part:
(d) (1) Every person receiving private mailbox receiving service from a CMRA in this state shall be required to sign an agreement, along with a USPS Form 1583, which authorizes the CMRA owner or operator to act as agent for service of process for the mail receiving service customer.
Attorneys can issue subpoenas but absent being an attorney, only a Clerk of the Court can issue a subpoena. An SDT is the only form of subpoena used in post-judgment and must be issued in conjunction with a hearing that is already calendared. Most clerks will not issue a subpoena without a calendared hearing date. Also, in California, improper use of discovery processes can subject a person to sanctions (CCP section 2023.030).
While as far as I know, there is no such provision for to get the CMRA (aka Private Mail Store) to comply. One can file a complaint with the Post Office because in order to receive mail for all the box-holders, the CMRA must be in compliance with the DMM [Domestic Mail Manual Section 508, 1.8.2 (h)] and all laws, to operate as a CMRA.
My knowledge is based in California, but the same concepts should apply in many states. In California, the laws that apply are primarily the California Codes of civil Procedure (CCPs) 415.xx, 416.xx, and 706.101. Also, California Business and Professions Code (BPC) 17538.5, and the Postal Code of Federal Regulations – CFR 39, section 265.5, and the Postal domestic mail manual.
When you need to have legal papers served on someone, there is a difference between mailboxes in stores – known as a Commercial Mail Receiving Agency (CMRA), and a US postal office. Legal documents can be served on a CMRA because someone is always available during business hours, who can accept service of process, on behalf of the box holder, who can also sign receipts.
At the US post office, you cannot serve a box holder, but the process server can get the boxholder’s physical address. After that, you can have the judgment debtor served.
Anyone can order a “Postal Kit” from ayouvebeenserved.com. Such a kit is most useful for a process server, private investigator, or a lawyer. If your judgment debtor has a USPS Post Office Box, you might be able just to send in a USPS “Request for Change of Address or Boxhholder Information” form. The USPS form may came back not only with the current street address, sometimes it even includes your judgment debtor’s phone number.
If the debtor address on file at the PMB turns out to be wrong, you can have the UPS Store lock the box and deny the debtor access to their mail until the box holder provides documented proof of their current physical address to the post office, with a revised PS1583 form.
Many civil court-related laws are designed without any penalties mandated if they are not complied with. It would be excusable if the cops simply did not have the resources for such small matters. In theory, not complying with a civil court order is not something that would interest the vast majority of police departments. Cops love to say “it’s civil matter” and walk away. However I have heard about some creditors that took the police-person’s badge number, and told them they will be in touch with the Internal Affairs department, and that occasionally works. The best resource for when a PMB will not comply with a subpoena is to sue them in (hopefully small claims) court for not complying, in California the penalty for not complying with a subpoena is $500 (sometimes you can get your legal costs including in your lawsuit/judgment.
See CCP 413.30, “alternative means”, where a debtor can be personally served at their PO Box, if you have the right supporting declarations. You must prove to a judge you did your due diligence first.
Of course laws are always changing, all too often to protect debtors and frauds, in the name of privacy and security. As an example, 39 CFR 265(d)(7) now says the post office does not have to tell you if anyone lives at the address they verify.