U.S. Marshals Can Serve Civil Process and Transport Prisoners More Efficiently

GGD-82-8: Published: Apr 22, 1982. Publicly Released: May 17, 1982.

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GAO examined the operations of the U.S. Marshals Service and evaluated its efforts to serve civil process for private litigants and to transport federal prisoners between judicial districts.

Marshals have been required by law to serve civil process when directed by the courts. Civil process is served and fees are charged in accordance with judicial rules and federal statutes, which are causing the process-serving function to be uneconomical and inefficient. Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs the service of process and causes marshals to be excessively involved with the performance of this function. It also restricts the use of certified mail, an efficient method of service for summonses and complaints. Although recent changes have been made to Rule 4 to broaden the range of people with blanket authorization to serve civil process and the ability of courts to specifically appoint persons to serve civil process, these changes have not had a significant impact. Rule 4 allows the use of certified mail to serve summonses and complaints to individuals, business concerns, and unincorporated associations. However, most states do not specifically allow the routine use of certified mail to serve civil summonses and complaints. GAO found that certified mail was an effective and efficient method of service and did not hamper court operations. In an effort to reduce the cost of transporting federal prisoners across federal judicial district boundaries, the National Prisoner Transportation System was developed. However, it is not being used to its full potential, which results in unnecessary transportation costs and danger to the public.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In the fall of 1987, legislation, H.R. 3551, was reintroduced in the House addressing this recommendation. The U.S. Marshals Service anticipates that the legislation will be enacted in 1988.

    Matter: Congress should require that the established fees provide full recovery of marshals' actual operating costs to serve private civil process exclusive of the costs incurred to serve process for indigents.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In the fall of 1987, legislation, H.R. 3551, was reintroduced in the House addressing this recommendation. The U.S. Marshals Service anticipates that the legislation will be enacted in 1988.

    Matter: Congress should revise 28 U.S.C. 1921 to give the Attorney General authority to periodically revise the fees that marshals charge for serving civil process for private litigants in federal court.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Judicial Conference developed amendments to Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which would require that civil process, at the request of a party, be made by a U.S. marshal, his deputy, or some person specifically appointed by the court.

    Recommendation: The Judicial Conference should develop amendments to Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which would require that civil process be served by persons especially appointed or approved by the courts to perform this function, except in those situations when service of process by marshals is specifically required by law or is deemed necessary by the courts.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Justice implemented changes to improve coordination of movement of federal prisoners. This should result in reduced costs and danger to private citizens by reducing the number of commercial flights taken.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should: (1) implement a definitive and detailed prisoner-movement priority system for trip coordinators to use when scheduling trips; (2) gather more specific deadline information for each prisoner movement; (3) require U.S. Attorneys' Offices to provide marshal personnel more timely information in order that the maximum amount of leadtimes are provided trip coordinators when scheduling trips; and (4) direct trip coordinators to critically evaluate each proposed prisoner movement for cost-effectiveness.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In passing P.L. 97-462, Congress designated that first-class mail be used rather than certified mail as the primary means of serving civil summonses and complaints. The use of first class is now authorized in every district regardless of whether a state's laws authorize it. This effort is consistent with this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Judicial Conference should develop amendments to Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which would authorize all federal judicial districts to use certified mail as one of the methods of serving summonses and complaints, except when service is to be made to an infant or an incompetent, and complaints should designate the person who may properly sign for the receipt of such process.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States

 

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