In the state of California, a person must be provided with notice of any legal actions pending against him or her, whether those are actions for divorce or notification that the individual is being subject to a civil lawsuit. The required notice is generally referred to as “service of process,” and it can sometimes be difficult to complete successfully when an individual’s whereabouts are unknown.
“In response to the difficulty of formal service of process, some foreign countries have begun to take a novel approach,” explains California-based personal injury lawyer James Ballidis.
Facebook and Service of Process
In light of the pervasive use of social networks, the possibilities of using a website such as Facebook in order to serve someone with notice of a court action may present new opportunities in terms of ease-of-service.
Several foreign courts have already permitted service via Facebook, including New Zealand, Canada and Australia. For instance, in MKM Capital Property Limited v Corbo and Poyser, No. SC 608 of 2008, the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court permitted two individuals who were facing foreclosure to be provided with notice of the default and service on Facebook. This was permitted after several failed attempts to serve the individuals via electronic mail or in person service, and was permitted because the information available on the individual’s Facebook profiles matched that provided to the lender when the loans were applied for. New Zealand also permitted Facebook service after failed attempts at in-person notice in Axe Market Gardens v Craig Axe CIV: 2008-485-2676 and Canada did the same in Knott v. Sutherland (Feb. 5, 2009) Edmonton 0803 002267 (Alta.Q.B.M.).
In February of 2012, England followed the example set by Australia and New Zealand when a high court judge ruled that a former trader allegedly involved in a brokerage scam could be served using Facebook. The law firm seeking to use Facebook for service had monitored the account of the defendant to be served and informed the judge that the man had recently added two new friends, proving that he was still an active user. This was not the first time that England had permitted Facebook to be used to provide notice of an illegal action either, as in 2009, the High Court had permitted an anonymous blogger to be served with an injunction on Twitter after he began impersonating another blogger.
The U.S. and Facebook Service
While there have been no cases in the United States yet permitting service of process via Facebook, it is not unreasonable to assume that the United States will also continue with the trend started abroad. Evidence from Facebook, including photographs, has already been used in numerous court actions including divorce cases, sexual harassment claims and even a murder trial. Further, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that address service to those who are abroad indicate that foreign service of process may be made by any means “prescribed by the foreign country’s law for service.” This means that if someone in the U.S. wanted to serve someone in New Zealand, Australia or another country that has recognized Facebook as a valid means of service, they would already be permitted to do so.
“If the California and federal laws shift to provide for service of process via Facebook, this will make it much easier to take legal action in many cases,” explains California personal injury lawyer James Ballidis. “It could prove helpful for cyber crimes where the physical address of the perpetrator may not be known.”
This will also help to eliminate struggles faced by plaintiffs and process servers who may be dealing with defendants who intentionally try to evade service in order to avoid the legal consequences of their actions.