Filing a case requires four steps: 1) the writing and filing of the complaint; 2) the payment of the filing fee (or a waiver); 3) the notification of the party you are suing (this is usually called “service of process”); and 4) proof to the court that the defendant has been served.
1. The first step—writing and filing the complaint—is the most complicated. This is because you will need to make the following decisions:
Effective July 1, 2013, Maryland Court Rule 1-322.1  instructs persons who file documents with a court to keep unnecessary personal identifier information out of the court records, unless there is a legal obligation to include such information. Under Rule 1-322.1(a), the following personal identifier information must not be included in any electronic or paper filing with a court:
The Rule sets forth exceptions, as well as alternatives when it is necessary to include personal identifier information.
Read the Law: MD Rule 1-322.1 
2. Next, you pay the filing fee. You can find the list of all District Court fees here . You can find a basic list of Circuit Court fees here and a county-by-county chart of fees here . In addition to the cost of filing the case, there is also a fee if you want the court to have the defendant served (either by mail or by constable/sheriff). If you have limited income, you may be eligible for a waiver of fees. You must apply for a waiver of fees by using this form , which can be filed either in District Court or in Circuit Court.
3. The next step is to notify the defendant of the lawsuit. You do this through a legal procedure called “service of process.” There are 3 ways to do this: by Certified Mail; Private Process; or by the Sheriff (or Constable).
4. Finally, you need to prove that you have actually served the defendant with a notice of your lawsuit. If you sent the Complaint and Summons by certified mail yourself, you must return the receipt of delivery to the Court. Mail the completed form back to the court along with a cover letter confirming that you are enclosing proof of service for filing in this case. If you used a private process server, that person must sign a document, called the “Affidavit of Service,” stating that the papers were served on the defendant. You must send the affidavit to the court. If you had the defendant served by a sheriff or constable you will receive notification that the defendant was served.
If the Court does not receive Proof of Service within the time, you may not be able to present your case on the trial date. There are rules to follow in case service does not happen on time. Because these rules are specialized for each court and your situation, you should check with your local court’s “self-help center” or law library.
After a plaintiff files a complaint, the defendant has an opportunity to respond. The time period for responding is different in each court.
In District Court cases, a defendant must respond in the following ways in order to have his or her day in Court:
A defendant may decide to file a motion, in addition to the responses above. For example, a defendant could do the following:
A defendant could also choose to ignore the summons. However, if the defendant fails to respond within 15 days of receiving the summons, he or she may lose the case automatically.
Finally, a defendant may try to settle the case out of court. If one party has an attorney, the other party must always contact the attorney and not the party. Otherwise, if both parties are self-representing their own cases, they may be able to work to settle the case themselves. Still, it’s a good idea to use mediation services whenever possible.
In Circuit Court, there are more rules to follow for answering a complaint. In most cases, if the defendant does not file an answer or counterclaim within 30 days of service of process, he or she will automatically lose. Maryland Rule 2-321 does list a few exceptions to the 30-day rule, so it is important for defendants to review that Rule as soon as they are served with a complaint. Read the Rule: MD Rule 2-321 
Answers in Circuit Court are more formal than in District Court. An answer must follow the format and captioning stated in Rule 1-301. In the answer, a defendant must admit or deny the facts the plaintiff gives in the complaint and contain any legal defenses listed in Maryland Rule 2-323. In Circuit Court, a defendant may also file certain procedural motions before filing an answer. Some of these motions, which are listed in Maryland Rule 2-322, can only be made at this point in the case. Finally, in some instances outlined in Maryland Rule 3-323, a defendant may need to file a Case Information Report. It is important to consult the Maryland Rules when answering a complaint filed in Circuit Court. Your local law library also may have additional books and sample forms on answering complaints. Read the Rules: MD Rule 3-323, 322 
Start by gathering as much information as you possibly can. Start with basic information, (name, age, social security number) and then expand from there. The more information you can gather the better. Good places to start gathering information are old bank statements, loan applications, bankbooks, and financial records. These documents are often treasure troves of information, such as a social security number or a date of birth.
Once you have this information and write it all down so that you have easy access to it while you are tracking down the person. Use a Data Collection Work Sheet (see sampel below) to help you organize the information you have collected. When the form is completed, keep it with you when you contact anyone as an easy reference and a place to add any additional information.
Ask friends, relatives, old employers, social clubs or religious institutions. You may be surprised at who has continued to keep in touch with your missing person.
We suggest that you initially attempt to locate the person by calling friends, relatives, and employers. Some people will not take the time to respond to a letter, so you may get a quicker answer by telephone.
However, letters are a more "official" approach and can be used to document your attempts to locate the person when you are having difficulty finding him or her.
No matter how you start your search, be sure to record dates and to whom you spoke with. (It is not necessary to make all of the contacts on this list, but do especially try the ones that may respond.) Use this Tracking Log to document your efforts.
If you know a recent address of the person you are seeking (within one year), you may be able to locate them if they have left a forwarding address. To try this approach, address a letter as usual to the address you have. Add the phrase “ADDRESS CORRECTION REQUESTED / DO NOT FORWARD” to the front of the envelope. If the post office has a forwarding address, they will place a correction label on the envelope and return it to you.
If you are afraid the person you are looking for may get your address from the return address, you can use “General Delivery” to avoid this. In the return address location write your name as usual, but where you normally place your street address, write “General Delivery.” Under that write, your city, state and zip code as normal. The letter will be returned to your Post Office and must be picked up by you within 30 days. There will be no way to figure out your exact address from the letter but if you are listed in the phone book, they will have the town in which you live. The U.S. Post Office’s description  of “General Delivery.”
If you are using the U.S. Mail to show an attempt at serving someone on the other side of a case, you will generally have to use “ Certified Mail - Return Receipt Requested”. The rules on what a court will find to be adequate service will vary.
Keep track of everyone you speak with and everything you do. It’s always a good idea to keep records of whom you have talked to. Use the Tracking Log below to document your efforts.
Whenever a phone call is made, or a letter is sent enter it in the log. Record what happened to each attempt at contact. If you are searching for someone for the purposes of service, this is another good reason to be sure you keep an accurate record of your attempts. If you still cannot locate the defendant after an exhaustive search, a record of all the steps you have taken could be enough evidence to prove to the court that you have tried. Remember that the court will have specific rules about what an adequate search might be. This will vary by type of case, however a well documented search is always helpful to show the efforts you have made.
If the person you are searching for is a member of a regulated trade or profession, such as a barber, hair stylist, cab driver, undertaker, paramedic, nurse, doctor, lawyer or private investigator, they will be certified, licensed, or registered through a state agency.
If your subject requires a state professional license, you can check that on the net for most of the major states. For a complete list of links to professional licensing, just go to the Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation . Their web site contains over thirty professions in which licensing or certification is involved and provided contact information for most of them in each of the 50 states.
The Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation  has a very useful database. If the person you are looking for is employed in Maryland, and is legally practicing in one of these fields, the database will have their name and address:
Architect, Barber, Certified Interior Designer, Certified Public Accountant, Cosmetologist, Examining Engineer, Forester, A Home Improvement Contractor, a HVACR Contractor, Landscape Architect, Land Surveyors, Master Electricians, Pawn Broker, Plumber, Real Estate Appraiser, Real Estate Agent, Professional Engineer, or a Second hand precious metal object dealer.
Vital records can be a good place to start building your stockpile of information on the person you are looking for. Marriage, divorce, birth and death certificates are available from the Vital Statistics Administration .
Marriage certificates are useful for finding information about a missing spouse. Things which you no longer recall such as birth dates or middle names or maiden names. The marriage certificate will be located in the state in which you were married.
Divorce records can be useful if you have heard rumors that your separated spouse may have divorced. You will have to look for the divorce certificate in the state and county where the divorce was filed.
Birth certificates can be used to locate an individual if you know or have heard that the person you are searching for has had a child. If you know where the child may have been born, you may get some clues a parent’s city from information on the certificate. Information on the birth certificate can lead to more searchable information such the mother, father, or child of the birth.
Death certificates can be used to show evidence of death.
The Maryland State Archives  contains a great deal of information, which could be useful in locating a person. The organization contains records and serves as the central depository for government records such as marriage and divorce information, family histories, county records, church records, newspapers, land records and many other sources of information. The Archives contain a surprising amount of information, most of which is somewhat old, but it could possibly contain that last piece of information that you need.
When someone obtains a secured loan, there is usually a Uniform Commercial Code file that indicates the that there is a lien on the goods. This is done on a county level and can be hand searched at the local county courthouse. The information is also forwarded to state records. Most states now permit access of UCC records on the net. In Maryland this information is available online at the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation . Information on liens, real property and other information is available.
If you think that the person you are looking for may have been released from prison and on parole, you can attempt to find out by contacting the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation .
Because of the large volume of requests that each service locator receives, this is a slow process. If you think it will yield results, try this first. It will most likely take four weeks processing time per request. See Request for Military Mailing Addresses . Please note, the Army no longer provides this service.
You can search the Social Security’s master death list  online for free. This will provide you with the month and year of a person’s death. The are at least five versions of the Master Death List online. Read the description of each one. Some are updated monthly, others less often.
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The records you will typically need include birth certificates, death certificates, marriage records, and divorce records. The records are maintained by the state or local government, in which the event took place. Getting copies of these records can be a lengthy, frustrating, and even costly process if you need to hire someone to find them for you. Here is how to do it yourself.
Maryland- For information about finding vital records (and obtaining certified copies) for events that have occurred in Maryland visit the Vital Statistics Administration .
Outside Maryland- For births, divorces or other events that occurred elsewhere in the United States, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publishes an extremely useful guide to finding vital records in the United States and its territories entitled “Where to Write for Vital Records- Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Divorces”  (PDF ). The guide lists the address and phone number of the record-keeping offices in each state and territory. It also includes fees charged for certified records, payment accepted and any special requirements or instructions. The phone numbers are listed so you can double-check on the current fees before sending in your payment. Website addresses are included for some listings to allow you to view instructions online.
Asking for a “certified” copy: In many instances, you must provide an original document or a “certified” copy of the original. Usually a “certified” copy is available for a small additional fee. Always ask for a certified copy if you must use the copy as a replacement for the original.
A private investigator can help you find information and people. S/he can find documentation such as court records, government agencies' filings, vital statistics, property ownerships, vehicle and vessel records, photographs, witness statements, etc.. The duties of private detectives and investigators depend on the needs of the client. Legal investigators specialize in cases involving the courts and are normally employed by law firms or lawyers. They frequently assist in preparing criminal defenses, locating witnesses, serving legal documents, interviewing police and prospective witnesses, and gathering/reviewing evidence. Legal investigators may also collect information on the parties to the litigation, take photographs, testify in court, and assemble evidence and reports for trials. This general overview was taken for the Department of Labor’s collection of job descriptions. If you are interested, also see the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Book  for a good overview of the profession.
Usually businesses and attorneys hire investigators. Publications used by private investigators mention the fact that some investigators are concerned about representing individuals in personal matters. They note that most will not turn down a legitimate personal matter such as locating a runaway child or locating a defendant in a law suit - if the requested service does not appear to violate a law or compromise the ethics of the investigator. For example, investigators may worry about issues such as being hired by a stalker to help find and watch a potential victim. You should be clear about the full circumstances of your request.
If you need help finding a private investigator, you may want to ask around for suggestions first. Most people find investigators through others who have used their services. Consult the trade organization for private investigation and security professionals in Maryland, Professional Investigators Alliance of Maryland, which lists (by county) contact information for its members.
Consult an attorney - Most successful private investigators interested in the type of work individuals are most likely to want (finding missing persons or looking for documents) work closely with attorneys in your area. An attorney may well be the best source for finding a private investigator.
Just like hiring any professional, you should learn something about the profession and be cautious.
First, you should make sure that the person or firm is licensed in Maryland. Private investigators or private investigation agencies in Maryland must be licensed by the Maryland State Police. Private investigators or private investigation agencies are issued a Maryland Private Detective License, which must be renewed annually and must be displayed in a conspicuous place. For more information on the licensing of private investigators in Maryland, call the Maryland State Police in Pikesville, MD at 410-653-4500.
Interested in the law that covers the qualifications and licensing of private investigators in Maryland?
You can find it at Title 13 of the Maryland Business Occupations and Professions statute. This state law regulates private investigators in the entire state of Maryland. There is no local city or county ordinance regulating private investigators.
Consider the education and experience needed for your task. Remember that the rate you pay will be partially determined by the experience and background of an investigator. You will want to hire someone with experience in your type of case but not someone who is overqualified or with a specialist in another area. For example you would not want a highly experienced securities fraud specialty to try to locate a missing spouse. Generally here are no formal education requirements for most private detective and investigator jobs, although many private detectives have college degrees. Almost all private detectives and investigators have previous experience in other occupations. This is especially true in a state such as Maryland that requires significant experience (3-5 years in full time investigation work) to receive a license. Frequently past experience includes work as a police officer or detective, fire investigator, retired military or government intelligence or insurance investigator.
Interview the investigator. Be very clear and tell him/her exactly what you expect. There is so much information available and the needs of each client are so specific to each case, that a consultation can be very helpful. There are no standard operating procedures for an investigation.
Ask for the following:
Read the Law: MD Code Bus. Occ. & Prof. § 13-604 
Make sure you have a written contract that you understand. Set a cap on expenses and fees. Set “benchmarks” (previously agreed upon times during which you and the investigator evaluate what has been done and whether it is worth proceeding).
Trust your instincts. If the investigator doesn't seem 'right', don't hire the person.
Fees in Maryland range from $40.00-$75.00 per hour and sometimes more. Investigators often have a specialty and like most services, you will pay a higher fee for the work of people with more experience and training. Also many will require a retainer or deposit to be applied against fees for services rendered and expenses. You may pay from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on what you need.
If you want to complain about the conduct of a private investigator or believe that an investigator is operating without a license, contact the Maryland State Police.
"Service" or "Service of Process" is making sure the other side gets a copy of the papers you are filing (for example, a complaint). If you are starting a case, your case cannot go forward until the other side is served. Someone who is capable of serving must physically give a copy of all necessary forms to the person whom you filed a complaint against in court.
It is very important that you do this correctly. If you do not, then the court may dismiss your case. The statutes regarding service are in MD Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings, Title 6, Subtitle 3 . The rules for service are in MD Rules, Title 3, Subtitle 1 for District Court and Title 2, Subtitle 1 for Circuit Court.
The court will issue a Writ of Summons, 5 to 10 days after you file your Complaint, Petition, or Motion. The Clerk of the Court will send the Writ of Summons to your mailing address, as the person who has filed. Attach the original copy of the summons to one copy of all of the forms that you filed with the court (Complaint, Domestic Case Information Report, Financial Statement, etc.). You must make sure that the Writ of Summons is attached to a copy of the complaint, petition, or motion. These papers must be served on the other side.Read the Rules: MD Rules 2-112, 2-113, 2-121, 3-112, 3-113, 3-121 
Service can be made in one of several ways. You need to choose a method of service:
YOU CANNOT SERVE THE OTHER SIDE YOURSELF. Whichever method you choose, proof that the other side was served must be filed with the court. A person can be served at home, at work, or anywhere else the person happens to be. Read the Rules: MD Rules 1-321, 2-123, 3-123 
One of the county sheriff's or constable's responsibilities is serving defendants in civil claims. The fee for this service is usually approximately $40.00. Service fees are located on the Maryland Judiciary Website . If you decide to pay for this service you can ask the Clerk of Court (person with who you will file your complaint) what the cost for the service is. It is your responsibility to find out whether or not the person has been served. The sheriff will send the clerk a "return of service" to prove the sheriff served the papers. You may have to call the Clerk several times before the other party gets served.
There are two ways to serve someone by private process: (1) by a private process serving company for a fee or (2) by an adult over the age of 18. You CANNOT serve the papers yourself.
This method is often fast and is also good if the other side is hard to locate. Ask the Clerk of Court to send you the Writ of Summons to mail. If you are representing yourself in a case of divorce, custody, visitation, child support, alimony, name changes or contempt, the judiciary has an form to give to the process server. Give the process server the papers to be served. Ask the process server to return the completed Affidavit of Service to you once the other side is served. Once you have all the necessary documents, you must go back to the court and file the completed Affidavit with a copy of the Writ of Summons attached with the Clerk of Court. With each return of service, you MUST provide the Court with the following:
If the Private Process Server name is unreadable, service will be considered unacceptable.
If you are representing yourself in a case of divorce, custody, visitation, child support, alimony, name changes or contempt, you must use the domestic relations forms CCDR 55 and CCDR 56 located on the Circuit Court website 
This is an inexpensive way to serve someone. THE PRIVATE PROCESS SERVER CANNOT BE YOU. The adult serving the papers must give the papers directly to the other side. The adult serving the papers may NOT leave the package on the other side’s doorstep, however you can leave it at the opposing party's home with a roommate or with a relative if they are over 18 and reside in that home. Use discretion, its better to serve someone who is close to the opposing party than someone who is not, even if they live in the same residence. If serving the opposing party directly, the service package need not be placed in the other side’s hands, they just need to be given notice that they are being served and given the documents. Not holding the documents or dropping them is not a defense to service, you can leave the documents at their feet. The person who served the other party person must complete an Affidavit of Service (Private Process, DR 55  for cases of divorce, custody, visitation, child support, alimony, name changes or contempt). You must file the Affidavit of Service along with a copy of the Writ of Summons with the Clerk of Court, to prove the other side was served.
This is a good method of service if the other side lives far from you. It does require that the other side accept the papers and personally sign the receipt (green card). The adult serving the papers (other than you) should take the papers to the Post Office and follow the instructions for mailing by certified mail, restricted delivery, return receipt requested. The adult must fill out an Affidavit (the judiciary has a form for self-represented litigants in domestic relations cases - DR 56 ) indicating that he or she mailed the papers and the other party received them. If the other side receives the papers, the receipt (green card) will be returned to you with the other side's signature. Attach the receipt (green card) and a copy of the Writ of Summons to the completed Affidavit, and file the Affidavit with the Clerk of Court as proof that the other side received the papers.
There are, however, problems with this type of service. Hostile opposing parties may not want to, and refuse to sign for the letters or simply not go to the post office to pick them up. In these cases, other service types such as by sheriff or by private service would be preferable.
If the receipt (green card) is returned with the wrong signature or if the entire envelope comes back undelivered, you will have to make another attempt at service or see an attorney.
If you have problems serving a party by certified mail you can contact the sheriff of the county where the party lives. You should explain to the sheriff that you have been unsuccessful at serving the party by mail and request their help. Ask the sheriff the cost of this service and any other requirements. A blank certificate of service and or certificate of evasion of service may have to be mailed to the sheriff.
You must mail a copy of the Answer and a copy of everything you are filing to the other side. Fill in the Certificate of Service at the bottom of the Answer. Do not forget to file your answer with the Clerk of Court.
If you are serving a counterclaim with your answer, you may serve the counterclaim (including all other domestic relations forms you have attached to the counterclaim) by mailing copies of everything to the other side. Fill in the Certificate of Service at the bottom of the counterclaim. Do not forget to file the counterclaim and all the forms attached to the counterclaim with the Clerk of Court. Read the Rules: MD Rules 2-321, 2-323, 3-307 
If the person you are serving is currently incarcerated you must obtain their inmate number. You can obtain this by calling the jail with the inmate’s social security number. You will need to have the inmate’s number on all necessary documents.
You should not serve an inmate by certified mail. The inmate will not be able to sign for the package and the court may find that the service was not valid.
You should serve by a sheriff or private process server. If you do not have the money to pay for this type of service you may want to have someone you know over the age of eighteen serve the papers.
You must then file this affidavit with the court.
There may have to be several attempts to serve the other side by using different methods. A Writ of Summons is only good for 60 days, this means you must have the other party served within those 60 days. You will have to ask the Clerk of Court in writing to issue a new Writ of Summons if the other side has not been served within 60 days. If several attempts to serve the other side have been unsuccessful you may have to consider serving the other side through alternative methods of service such as Posting or Publication.
Service by Posting or Publication is only done when the person who has filed has shown by affidavit that the whereabouts of the opposing party are unknown. Additionally, the person who has filed must show that reasonable efforts have been made in good faith to locate the opposing part. After those criteria have been satisfied, the court may order service by the mailing of a notice to the opposing party's last known address and by the posting of the notice by the sheriff at the courthouse door or on a bulletin board within its immediate vicinity, or by publishing the notice at least once a week in each of three successive weeks in one or more newspapers of general circulation published in the county in which the action is pending.
The person served has 30 days to answer if he or she is served in Maryland, 60 days to answer if he or she is served out of state, and 90 days to answer if he or she is served outside the United States. Read the Rules: MD Rules 2-321, 2-323, 3-307 
On the day your case is scheduled, make sure you are there early. Often you will need to check in with the court personnel in the courtroom. If you are not there when your case is called, your case could be thrown out or the court could rule in favor of the other side. If you have to miss your court date because of an emergency, contact the court BEFORE you are scheduled to be in court.
You may be able to have the court look at documents or other evidence, such as pay stubs or pictures. That day, have your documents and other evidence with you, have them in order, and have extra copies.
The other side and his or her witnesses also will have a chance to tell his or her story and can present the same kinds of evidence. You will have a chance to cross-examine the other side and his or her witnesses.
18 Md. L. Ency., Process.