In the age of social media, should courts permit service of process through a Facebook message? One New York state judge has.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper recently allowed a plaintiff's attorney to serve divorce papers to her husband in a Facebook message from the plaintiff's account. The plaintiff, 26-year-old nurse Ellanora Baidoo, has had difficulty contacting her husband, Victor Sena Blood-Dzraku. He would communicate only through a phone call or on Facebook. When a private investigator attempted to deliver the paperwork, Blood-Dzraku did not respond.
According to Justice Cooper's March 27 decision, an in-person delivery is still the option of first resort. Nevertheless, electronic communication is an alternative option. In his decision, Justice Cooper wrote, "The past decade has also seen the advent and ascendancy of social media, with websites such as Facebook and Twitter TWTR +3.99% occupying a central place in the lives of so many people. Thus, it would appear that the next frontier in the developing law of the service of process over the internet is the use of social media sites as forums through which a summons can be delivered." Conceding that serving divorce papers via Facebook is novel and nontraditional, Justice Cooper reasoned that in the end it achieves its purpose of notifying the defendant that he is being sued.
Seymour J. Reisman, who practices matrimonial law at Reisman, Peirez, Reisman and Capobinco in Garden City, N.Y., commented that the decision is "revolutionary" and "the right thing." Reisman compared the electronic delivery approach to traditional service of process, where a plaintiff who could not find a defendant would have to leave the notice at a last-known address or publish it in a newspaper. Under the traditional method, Reisman highlights, there was no guarantee the defendant would know he was being sued.
This is not the first time that a New York court has permitted a plaintiff to serve legal documents through Facebook. In September 2014, a New York family court allowed a plaintiff to send his ex-wife a notice for child-support using the social network. Perhaps this opens the door to using social media for service of process in other types of cases. However, it may be that courts are more comfortable permitting such less-formal means in the familial context.
Keywords: minority trial, litigation, Facebook, social media, divorce