Comedians have a reputation for being weird and Mike Epps, known for his roles in The Hangover and Jumping the Broom movies, is no stranger to weird moments. But what happened to him on May 6 was so weird that it caught him totally unawares, perhaps more so because he was onstage at the time and it wasn’t even a problem with some heckler. It was an officer of the law. Here’s what happened: Epps was in the middle of his shtick that evening at the Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie, TX, when a process server walked up to him onstage and served him some papers that summoned him to appear as a defendant in a lawsuit. The process server then walked off but not before Epps gave her a piece of his mind. In an angry outburst caught on a TMZ tape, Epps berated her with words like “white b—-“and “f— you” and “suck my d—“.
It turns out that back in November 2010, Epps had allegedly gotten into a fight with a photographer in a night club in Detroit and not wanting to let things slide, the photographer had filed a million dollar lawsuit against him.
Some rather surprised comedians have asked whether it’s even legal for process servers to approach comedians onstage and serve them with court papers. Short answer: if the process server can actually get to the comedian onstage and tell him what the papers are about, then, you bet, it is legal. And while it may be an unusual experience for comedians at work onstage, it’s not that unusual for other people to get served at work. It actually happens that a guy who works at a post office, a restaurant or at city hall could be served court papers at his job with all the embarrassment that could follow.
What we are talking about here is “due process” and it is a big matter under the constitution. To make it as simple as possible, one can say that under the law, a person who is sued is entitled to be notified of the lawsuit against him so he can get a fair and adequate opportunity to answer the claim. If that is not done, then it means the court has no “personal” jurisdiction over him and any judgment rendered against him will be a waste of time. Any person being sued can be notified of the lawsuit against him in any number of ways, as long as the method that is chosen actually does gives him “notice” of the claim against him. Thus, a person being sued can be served with the court papers wherever he can be found, even outside the state. That means that he does not have to be served at this home and he could be served at his job. Translation: a comedian, yes, can also be served at his job – onstage, that is.
So, getting access to the person to be sued is the key thing. However, trying to reach performers like comedians onstage is kind of like trying to reach a celebrity rock star at a huge concert which means having to cut through his bodyguards to serve him with court papers. It’s never an easy thing but once the process server or some other authorized person can get access to the person to be served, that should do it. Perhaps, in Epps’ case, the comedy club owners might have tried stopping the process server from reaching the comedian onstage – if they would have known why she was there in the first place. But alas, she was able to literally slip through the fence and serve the comedian, and that was that. Done!
How about his remaining options? Well, since he has been served, the court now has “jurisdiction” over him. But Epps can of course try to “set aside” or “quash” the court process on a whole bunch of grounds. For instance, he can try to show that the court papers were perhaps served rather late on him; or that the court has no power over someone like him, maybe because he lives outside the court’s territory and didn’t do anything inside the court’s territory; or even that the court has no power to deal with the kind of claim that the photographer is making against him.
If he is not able to set aside the court papers, then Epps will have to answer the photographer’s allegations against him. Since they were allegedly in a fight, the photographer’s most obvious claim against Epps will be for the tort of battery, which occurs when one person deliberately makes physical contact with another person without their consent and without lawful excuse. Since Epps apparently didn’t have the photographers’ consent to make contact with him, he would have to explain what lawful excuse he had for making physical contact with the photographer. If he was acting in self-defense at the time of the fight, or if he hit the photographer by accident, that might do the trick. The only problem here is that Epps already gloated onstage right after the process server gave him the court papers that “[t]his is from when I whooped that n——‘s ass in Detroit.” Well, this sort of talk certainly won’t help his case one bit.
In the end, one may quarrel with the idea of a comedian being served with court papers onstage, considering all the distractions and pretty unsettling mind games that could come with it. Usually, this is something that not even the most obnoxious heckler could manage to do to any good comedian. Still, while it may be unusual and perhaps unfair to serve comedians with court papers in that situation, it is legal. Of course, the photographer and the process server in Epps’ case were obviously pretty aggressive in the way they moved to “hale” Epps into court. But then again, lawsuits are not exactly friendly affairs.