NY judge holds service via Facebook permissible

Nicole Black, The Daily Record Newswire

Social media: It’s not a fad. I think we can all agree on that. Not only is it here to stay, it’s quickly becoming an accepted method of communication. That’s why judges in the United States have recently begun to permit service via Facebook.

Last October I wrote about two different U.S. judges who had issued orders permitting service upon litigants using Facebook. First, in February 2014, U.S. Magistrate judge for the Eastern District of Virginia, Thomas Rawles Jones Jr., issued an order to that effect in Whoshere, Inc., v. Gokhan Orun d/b/a/ WhoNear; Who Near; whonear.me, where the defendant was located in Turkey.

In the other case, a family court judge, Staten Island Support Magistrate Gregory Gliedman, permitted service on the plaintiff’s U.S.-based ex-wife via Facebook where the plaintiff had attempted to serve her using more traditional means and had failed because his ex-wife had moved from her prior address and had left no forwarding address.

Most recently, just a few weeks ago, another New York judge joined the pack by permitting service via Facebook in a matrimonial case, Baidoo v. Blood-Dzraku (2015 NY Slip Op 25096), where the plaintiff sought permission from the court to serve a divorce summon on her husband via his Facebook account. Ultimately, the court granted her request.

In reaching his decision, New York County Supreme Court Judge Matthew F. Cooper acknowledged the impact of social media on our culture: “The past decade has also seen the advent and ascendency of social media, with websites such as Facebook and Twitter 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.”

He then considered the application in light of the plaintiff’s assertion that her husband, Victor Sena Blood-Dzraku, had lived separately from his wife for some time, had only recently been in touch with her by Facebook and telephone, and had refused to provide her with his home or work location or to otherwise make himself available for service.

Based on those factual allegations and after analyzing the applicable statutes and standards, Judge Cooper concluded that service via Facebook would be acceptable: “Under the circumstance presented here, service by Facebook, albeit novel and nontraditional, is the form of service that most comports with the constitutional standards of due process. Not only is it reasonably calculated to provide defendant with notice that he is being sued for divorce, but every indication is that it will achieve what should be the goal of every method of service: actually delivering the summons to him.”

In order to ensure that the defendant actually received notice of the divorce proceeding, the court required a very specific procedure be followed when serving him via Facebook: “(Plaintiff's attorney shall log into plaintiff's Facebook account and message the defendant by first identifying himself, and then including either a Web address of the summons or attaching an image of the summons. This transmittal shall be repeated by plaintiff's attorney to defendant once a week for three consecutive weeks or until acknowledged by the defendant. Additionally, after the initial transmittal, plaintiff and her attorney are to call and text message defendant to inform him that the summons for divorce has been sent to him via Facebook.”

So, once again, yet another judge weighs in and gives service via social media sites his blessing. Clearly service by this means won’t be appropriate in all situations, but it’s heartening to see judges who acknowledge the impact of social media and make efforts to understand how these sites work and how they can be used responsibly to forward the goals of our judicial system.

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Nicole Black is a director at MyCase.com, a cloud-based law practice management platform. She is also of counsel to Fiandach & Fiandach in Rochester and is a GigaOM Pro analyst. She is the author of the ABA book “Cloud Computing for Lawyers,” coauthors the ABA book “Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier,” and co-authors “Criminal Law in New York,” a West-Thomson treatise. She speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes three legal blogs and can be reached at niki@mycase.com.

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