California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed AB 1720 into law. The bill, introduced by Assembly Member Norma Torres, aims at ensuring that state-licensed private investigators are provided access to gated communities to serve process, just as licensed private investigators are able to serve process everywhere else. State law currently ensures that registered process servers are provided this access to gated communities, but prior to the passage of AB 1720, the law did not provide that that licensed private investigators, who are exempt from having to register as process servers, were also provided this access.

Existing CCP Section 415.21, which applies only to registered process servers, grants access to gated communities upon four conditions: (1) the access is only for a reasonable time; (2) access is for the purpose of performing lawful service or service of a subpoena; (3) the person must identify to the guard the person to be served, and (4) the person seeking access must display identification and appropriate evidence of licensure. This bill simply seeks to apply these same conditions in extending access to private investigators. Because presentation of a private investigator’s license and personal identification are required to gain access, employees or agents of private investigators continue to be excluded from access to the gated community under this bill.

Furthermore, in order to clarify that private investigators are granted access to a gated community for the sole purpose of serving legal process, and not to conduct investigative work or for any other purpose the bill expressly states that there was no Legislative intent to modify the rule of substituted service established by Bein v. Brechtel-Jochim Group (1992). In Bein v. Brechtel-Jochim Group, Inc. (1992) 6 Cal. App. 4th 1387, the Court of Appeal (4th District) held that service of legal process upon a guard at the entrance of a gated community is sufficient to meet the requirements for substituted service pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure Section 415.20. In that case, the Court wrote that while “litigants have the right to choose their abodes, they do not have the right to control who may sue or serve them by denying them physical access.” The Court concluded that after good faith attempts at physical service on the resident of the gated community had been unsuccessful, it was appropriate to allow substituted service on the residential gate guard under its interpretation of Section 415.20.

With the enactment of this bill, just has been the case for registered process servers, now a licensed private investigator may, make substituted service on the guard of the gated community if he or she has already tried without success to personally serve legal process with reasonable diligence.

This is a guest post by Robert M. DeNichilo of DeNichilo & Lindsley, LLP.  Mr. DeNichilo is a member of the CAI-CLAC PR Committee.