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Civil Process



The Morgan County Sheriff's Office has a unit of dedicated men and women that are responsible for the service of civil papers. Additionally, our Patrol Division also serves papers throughout the county while patrolling and responding to calls.

The Service of Civil Process is the primary responsibility of any Sheriff's Office. Civil Process consists of Subpoenas, Evictions, Garnishments, Divorce Papers, Small Claims, Writs, Executions, Protection from Abuse Orders, and various other Civil Processes as well as probate matters. All these papers are processed by the Clerks Office.

Most of these documents must be served in a timely manner and will in many cases require a response from the defendant back to the court. Many come from other jurisdictions, both in-state and from out-of-state. Sheriff's sales are also conducted by the Civil Division.

Over the last few years, the Civil Division has served an average of approximately 15,000 to 20,000 documents. As the county's population increases so do the number of civil documents filed in the county.

1. Civil Action: Action brought to enforce, redress, or protect private rights. In general, all types of actions other than criminal proceedings.

2. Plaintiff: The person bringing the action; the party who complains or sues in a civil action.

3. Defendant: The party against whom relief or recovery is sought in an action or suit.

4. Service of Process: The service of writs, summonses, etc..., signifies the delivering to or leaving them with the party to whom or with whom they ought to be delivered or left; and when they are so delivered, they are then said to have been served.

5. Return of Service: The act of a sheriff in delivering back to the court a writ, notice, process, or other paper, which he was required to serve or execute, with a brief account of his failure to accomplish it, as the case may be.

6. Execution: An execution is a process issued from a court in a civil action authorizing the Sheriff or other competent officer to carry out the court's decision in favor of the prevailing party and commanding the officer to take the property of the defendant in satisfaction of the debt.

7. Indemnity Bond: This bond is for twice the amount of the execution and shifts the liability from the Sheriff's Office to the plaintiff if the property on the execution turns out to be owned by someone other than the defendant.

8. Evictions: An Eviction is an act of removing a tenant from possession, either by re-entry or legal proceedings, such as an action of ejectment.

9. Unlawful Detainers: The Unlawful Detainer is the unjustifiable retention of the possession of lands by one whose right to the possession has terminated and who refuses to leave.

10. Writ of Possession: A Writ of Possession is employed to enforce a judgment to recover the possession of the land. It commands the Sheriff to enter the land and give possession of it to the person entitled under the judgment.

11. Counter Affidavit: An affidavit made and presented in contradiction or opposition to an affidavit that is made the basis or support of a motion or application.

District Summons, Small Claims, & Garnishments
These papers may be served "upon an individual, other than an infant or an incompetent person by serving the individual or by leaving a copy of the summons and the complaint at the individual's dwelling house or usual place of abode with some person of suitable age and discretion residing therein as stated in the Code of Alabama 35-9-82

A person of considerable age and discretion for our office is someone over the age of 16 and living with the defendant at the address listed on the summons.

Garnishments (all types), will always be served on an employer and can be an individual. There will be an answer sheet attached that must be filled out by the employer and sent back to the plaintiff. If the individual to be garnished no longer works for that business or individual, the garnishment must still be served and that information can be noted on the answer sheet by the business agent or individual. The garnishment notice to the defendant can be served to the employer as long as a legible signature and their business title accompanies the return of service. If the defendant no longer works for the business or individual, the notice can be returned to the plaintiff with that information.

Evictions Process
The following is intended to be a guideline for the eviction process and does not necessarily apply in every situation or cover every detail. The Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (House Bill 287) can be read in its entirety online at: tenant.pdf.
Also note that (35-9A-407) states, "If a landlord...willfully diminishes services by interrupting or causing the interruption of heat, running water, hot water, electric, gas, or other essential services, the tenant may recover an amount equal to not more than three months' periodic rent or the actual damages sustained by the tenant, whichever is greater, and reasonable attorney's fees."

Step 1 - The landlord must deliver a written notice giving the tenant seven (7) calendar days "the right to cure" or an opportunity to settle the debt or to vacate.

If payment is received during this period, the landlord shall accept payment and end the eviction process.

If payment is not received, continue with Step 2.

Any breach of lease (other than non-payment): If termination is for any other breach of lease (i.e. not maintaining the lawn, being too loud, etc.), The landlord must deliver a written notice giving the tenant 14 calendar days to correct the cause of the breach, or to vacate.

Step 2 - Landlord must file for "Unlawful Detainer" with the Circuit Clerk's Office.

If money is being claimed in the Detainer (i.e. past due rent, damages, court fees), a Deputy must make personal service and send a return of service to the Circuit Clerk's Office. The landlord still has a right to negotiate a settlement and accept payment while the process is still ongoing.

If money is not claimed and simply seeking possession of the property, a Deputy may post a notice to the door and send a return of service to the Circuit Clerk's Office.

***If termination of lease is for non-payment, the tenant has seven (7) business days to file a response to the court. If termination is for any other breach of lease (i.e. not maintaining the lawn, being too loud, etc.), the tenant has fourteen (14) business days to file a response to the court.

If no response is filed by the tenant within the appropriate times, continue with Step 3. If the tenant files a response, all parties will be notified by mail of a court date.

Step 3 - The landlord must file an Application for "Default Judgment" with the Circuit Clerk's Office.

A District Court Judge will review each case and render a judgment based on his findings. The Judge may then issue a "Writ of Possession" or Writ of Restitution" in favor of the Landlord with an order for the Sheriff to assist while removing the tenant and his belongings. A Sheriff's Deputy will schedule a date and time with the landlord to conduct the set-out. ****It is the Policy of the Lee County Sheriff's Office to NOT provide the manpower to remove the belongings.

It is recommended that the landlord change locks once possession is returned.

The Sheriff's Office does not set or regulate the fees associated with Unlawful Detainers. Any questions concerning this should be directed to the Circuit Clerk's Office at 256.351.4790.

Protection Orders
Most of the time these orders will result out of a divorce petition where some type of violence has been reported. These orders are to be served by post-certified personnel and by personal service only on the listed defendant. These papers are not to be left with anyone at the residence regardless of the relationship to the defendant. The only exception to this will be if a notation is on the paper that it can be left in the care of another and that person will be named in the address on the paper.

The Protection Orders and Automatic Orders are signed by a District Court Judge. The Protection From Abuse Orders is obtained from the Circuit Clerks Office. Restraining Orders are drawn up by an attorney, signed by a Judge, and then sent to the Sheriff's Office for service.

Out-Of-State Civil Papers

The fee for us to serve an out-of-state civil paper for anyone other than another law enforcement agency is $50.00, a check made payable to the Morgan County Sheriff's Office and should be mailed to the following address:
Morgan County Sheriff's Office
Attn: Admin Office/Civil Papers
119 Lee St NE
Decatur, AL 35601

NOTE: The Morgan County Sheriff's Office, in accordance with proper service, will only accept legal documents from the courts or law enforcement agencies from which they originated.

To protect and serve … since 1818