Rule 4.1 – Serving Other Process

(a) In General. Process—other than a summons under Rule 4 or a subpoena under Rule 45—must be served by a United States marshal or deputy marshal or by a person specially appointed for that purpose. It may be served anywhere within the territorial limits of the state where the district court is located and, if authorized by a federal statute, beyond those limits. Proof of service must be made under Rule 4(l).

(b) Enforcing Orders: Committing for Civil Contempt. An order committing a person for civil contempt of a decree or injunction issued to enforce federal law may be served and enforced in any district. Any other order in a civil-contempt proceeding may be served only in the state where the issuing court is located or elsewhere in the United States within 100 miles from where the order was issued.

Summary and Explanation

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4.1 is a procedural rule that deals specifically with serving subpoenas to nonparties before trial. Here’s a summary and explanation of the rule:

Rule 4.1 allows parties in a civil lawsuit to serve subpoenas to compel testimony or the production of documents from individuals or entities who are not parties to the lawsuit. This could include witnesses, businesses, or other organizations. The rule outlines the requirements and procedures for serving subpoenas and provides protections for the recipients of subpoenas.


  1. Authorization for Issuing Subpoenas: Rule 4.1 authorizes parties to a lawsuit to issue subpoenas to nonparties. This allows parties to gather evidence and compel testimony from relevant individuals or entities that are not directly involved in the lawsuit but may have information pertinent to the case.
  2. Procedures for Issuing Subpoenas: The rule sets forth the procedures for issuing subpoenas, including the format and content requirements. Subpoenas must specify the time, place, and manner of the testimony or production of documents requested.
  3. Service of Subpoenas: Rule 4.1 outlines the methods for serving subpoenas on nonparties. This ensures that the recipients are properly notified of their obligations and rights under the subpoena.
  4. Objections and Protections for Recipients: The rule also provides a mechanism for recipients of subpoenas to object to them. Recipients may object on various grounds, such as privilege or undue burden. Rule 45 provides protections for recipients, ensuring that they are not unduly burdened or subjected to unreasonable demands.
  5. Enforcement of Subpoenas: If a recipient fails to comply with a subpoena, the issuing party may seek enforcement through the court. Rule 45 provides procedures for enforcing subpoenas and addressing noncompliance.

Overall, Rule 4.1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure facilitates the discovery process by allowing parties to obtain evidence from nonparties through the issuance of subpoenas, while also providing protections for the recipients of those subpoenas. It helps ensure fairness and efficiency in civil litigation proceedings.


(As added Apr. 22, 1993, eff. Dec. 1, 1993; amended Apr. 30, 2007, eff. Dec. 1, 2007.)

Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1993

This is a new rule. Its purpose is to separate those few provisions of the former Rule 4 bearing on matters other than service of a summons to allow greater textual clarity in Rule 4. Subdivision (a) contains no new language.

Subdivision (b) replaces the final clause of the penultimate sentence of the former subdivision 4(f), a clause added to the rule in 1963. The new rule provides for nationwide service of orders of civil commitment enforcing decrees of injunctions issued to compel compliance with federal law. The rule makes no change in the practice with respect to the enforcement of injunctions or decrees not involving the enforcement of federally-created rights.

Service of process is not required to notify a party of a decree or injunction, or of an order that the party show cause why that party should not be held in contempt of such an order. With respect to a party who has once been served with a summons, the service of the decree or injunction itself or of an order to show cause can be made pursuant to Rule 5. Thus, for example, an injunction may be served on a party through that person’s attorney. Chagas v. United States, 369 F.2d 643 (5th Cir. 1966). The same is true for service of an order to show cause. Waffenschmidt v. Mackay, 763 F.2d 711 (5th Cir. 1985).

The new rule does not affect the reach of the court to impose criminal contempt sanctions. Nationwide enforcement of federal decrees and injunctions is already available with respect to criminal contempt: a federal court may effect the arrest of a criminal contemnor anywhere in the United States, 28 U.S.C. §3041, and a contemnor when arrested may be subject to removal to the district in which punishment may be imposed. Fed. R. Crim. P. 40. Thus, the present law permits criminal contempt enforcement against a contemnor wherever that person may be found.

The effect of the revision is to provide a choice of civil or criminal contempt sanctions in those situations to which it applies. Contempt proceedings, whether civil or criminal, must be brought in the court that was allegedly defied by a contumacious act. Ex parte Bradley, 74 U.S. 366 (1869). This is so even if the offensive conduct or inaction occurred outside the district of the court in which the enforcement proceeding must be conducted. E.g., McCourtney v. United States, 291 Fed. 497 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 263 U.S. 714 (1923). For this purpose, the rule as before does not distinguish between parties and other persons subject to contempt sanctions by reason of their relation or connection to parties.

Committee Notes on Rules—2007 Amendment

The language of Rule 4.1 has been amended as part of the general restyling of the Civil Rules to make them more easily understood and to make style and terminology consistent throughout the rules. These changes are intended to be stylistic only.

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