How May I Serve You? Facebook as A Means of Serving Notice and Summons

fbBy Samuel Daheim

For many, the internet has become the primary means of storing, disseminating, and receiving information in personal affairs. We often regard the web as the most convenient and accessible method of communicating. The question arises: should the legal system reflect society’s growing dependence on cyberspace? Or should the age-old traditions of law stand as unmoved pillars, upon which our notions of justice rest?

Last year, Mr. Christian Kaiser authored a post on this blog concerning a case in which a federal judge in the Southern District of New York held that serving notice over Facebook to international defendants was constitutionally adequate. In that post, Mr. Kaiser asked readers to assess how they felt about Facebook providing a platform for not only service of process, but for transferring legal documents of any sort. Earlier this month, a federal judge in the Eastern District of New York moved this conversation forward when she held that a U.S. citizen residing in the United States could be served notice via Facebook.

In Ferrarse v. Shaw, the judge determined that serving process by traditional methods was impracticable in the circumstances. The plaintiff in that case, Mr. Ferrarese, alleged that the defendant, his ex-wife, fled with their 10-year old daughter, of whom they had shared custody. Mr. Ferrarese further alleged that he was unable to locate the defendant due, in large part, to her name having been changed several times. During one of the plaintiff’s attempts to serve notice upon the defendant, the defendant’s sister was found to be residing at a residence that had been associated with one of the defendant’s previous names. Mr. Ferrarese claimed that the defendant’s sister had been hostile to those sent on his behalf to serve process, and that she had refused to accept service or provide the defendant’s current residential address and alias. Through independent inquiry, the plaintiff claims to have found the defendant under a new identity, “Tata Shaw.” However, Mr. Ferrarese was unable to find any information as to an address for anyone by that name, or any other names previously associated with the defendant. At a loss, the plaintiff and his counsel turned to social media, where they were able to find a Facebook profile allegedly associated with the defendant under the name “Tata Shaw.”

The Court reasoned that, because the circumstances were such that traditional means of serving notice had proved impracticable, and the defendant’s due process rights were satisfied, Mr. Ferrarese could serve the defendant on her Facebook page. Where a plaintiff is able to show that customary service methods are impracticable, courts may authorize an alternative service method that complies with constitutional due process. A method of service has satisfied due process where it is reasonably calculated, under the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections. The court determined, due to the defendant’s persistent efforts to evade service, alternative methods of service were proper in this case. Facebook was an appropriate alternative method of service, the Court reasoned, so long as Mr. Ferrarese also sent a copy of the summons and petition by certified mail, and e-mailed a copy of the summons and petition to the email address which was linked to the Facebook page.

The legal field is constantly evolving to meet the most current demands of the population that it serves. Given our society’s growing dependence on technology, the legal system will likely continue to rely on technological advancements that provide convenience and ease for the parties involved. Employing web-based tools, such as Facebook, for more formal legal processes may have a tendency to raise the hairs of legal traditionalists. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see if courts continue to employ the web to facilitate the administration of justice.

Image source: Sophos Ltd.

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