Service of Process by Facebook

Welcome to 2018!  For those growing up in the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s, who could have imagined Google, Amazon, cellular telephones, the internet, and so much more.  It’s no different in the practice of law as slowly, but surely, the old way of doing things are being challenged by the realities of the modern era.

Service of process is a cornerstone of the law dating back to 1215 and the Magna Carta.  At its essence, service of process means that persons are entitled to notice of the claims being brought against them so as to ensure a fair opportunity to be heard regarding those claims.  In the past, when a litigant could not be personally served by an officer of the court, alternate means of service including publication in a newspaper has been permitted to satisfy the requirements of notice and due process.    In our modern society, however, many have questioned the adequacy of service by publication whereby an advertisement in small type is inserted in the back pages of the newspaper.

Most recently, a New Jersey court gained notoriety by permitting service of a Complaint in a domestic dispute via Facebook.  In the case of K.A. and K.I.A. v. J.L., a mother attempted to bar an individual from posting what she claimed to be inappropriate material on the internet and on Facebook itself regarding her adopted child.  The person posting this information claimed to be the child’s biological father.  The mother’s attorney attempted to send a cease and desist notice to the defendant by certified and regular mail.  Although the regular mail had not been returned to sender, the certified mail was ultimately returned as unclaimed.  Based on the perceived difficulty of notifying the defendant, the mother and her attorney sought permission from the court to serve the Complaint via Facebook.  In a ground breaking decision for our state, the court determined that service by Facebook was the only viable alternative to reasonably ensure that the defendant would be put on notice with regard to the claims made concerning his alleged meddlesome conduct.  The court found that service by publication in a newspaper would be impracticable based on the urgent nature of the action and the belief that the defendant was not residing in the State of New Jersey.  As a result, the trial court determined that especially as the alleged harm had been perpetuated through defendant’s activity on Facebook, service of process via Facebook would be appropriate and consistent with due process.

As modern society comes to view service by publication as an arcane and outdated procedure to give notice to litigants, it is undeniable that courts will rely more and more upon social media to effectuate service of process.  Especially in our ever mobile world, parties involved in divorce litigation and other domestic disputes may need to rely on non-traditional methods of service to have their day in court.  Service of process by Facebook when personal service is unavailable and a valid address cannot be obtained?…welcome to the 21st century!

*John P. Paone, Jr, Esq. and Victoria E. Paone, Esq. are divorce and family law attorneys with the Law Offices of Paone Zaleski & Murray at 120 Maple Avenue, Red Bank.