Service of Process through Facebook
U.S. courts typically require plaintiffs to personally serve and deliver the summons and complaint of his/her cause of action to each named defendant. The personal service of court documents must be made upon the defendant in order to properly summon him/her to court. Service of process upon the defendant is usually achieved by the following means:
- Personal Service
- Service By Mail
- Substituted Service
- Service of Process by Fax and/or Email (limited in most jurisdictions)
Service of process by electronic means is allowed in some U.S courts. For instance, the New York Federal Court has previously allowed service of process by email. See Tishman v. The Associated Press. (Slip Op.) 2005 WL 288369 (S.D.N.Y. February 6, 2006).
Further, with the popular use of social media, more U.S. courts are allowing service of process through Facebook. For instance, the United States District Court Judge Paul Englemayer, of the Southern District of New York, ordered that the Federal Trade Commission could serve legal documents upon five defendants in India by sending a Facebook message to each named defendant. Opinion and Order: Federal Trade Commission v. PCCare247 Inc., et. al. – Case No. 12 Civ. 7189 (PAE).
Texas has also introduced a bill that would allow for service of process through Facebook. If enacted, Texas House Bill 1989 would make the Lone Star State the first in the United States to allow for service of process through various social media channels as an alternative means of service.
Though service of process through social media channels appears to be a novel practice, there have been countless objections within the legal community against using social media for service of process. A main concern of the legal community is how the court can determine whether the named defendant has actually received the court summons and complaint through a social media channel such as Facebook.
Fortunately, tech savvy lawyers are coming up with accurate methods of identification. For civil claims, lawyers are working with Facebook staff to obtain information regarding user login activity in a response to a civil subpoena. Facebook has agreed to provide basic subscriber information, but will not disclose any personal content associated with the account.
In certain situations, Facebook could help identify whether a defendant has viewed a message regarding a court summons and complaint by disclosing if whether a defendant has logged into their account. Through corroborating evidence, lawyers could potentially prove that the defendant did review the actual summons and complaint through Facebook.
To validate subscriber information, Facebook requires the following:
1) The requested information [must be] indispensible to the case and not within the party’s possession; and 2) [the plaintiff] personally serve a valid California or federal subpoena on Facebook.
With recent court rulings and proposed state legislation, it is only a matter of time before service of process through social media channels becomes an accepted practice within the U.S. legal community.