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Lawyers can serve legal documents via e-mail, a federal appeals court decided in a groundbreaking ruling. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that a Las Vegas hotel-casino could e-mail legal documents to an offshore company with no physical address. “When faced with an international e-business scofflaw playing hide-and-seek with the federal court, e-mail may be the only means of effecting service of process,” the court said. “We acknowledge that we tread upon untrodden ground.” The ruling was a victory for the Rio hotel-casino in Las Vegas, which claimed a Costa Rican online sports book infringed on the hotel’s trademark by operating gambling Web sites at www.riosports.com and www.betrio.com. U.S. District Judge Philip M. Pro of the District of Nevada had allowed the Las Vegas business to use e-mail to serve legal documents because no physical address could be found. The appeals court upheld that decision, saying it was a reasonable way to inform the Web site operators of legal action and give them the opportunity to respond. Serving legal documents via e-mail could become more common in a world linked by the Internet where commerce and commercial disputes span international borders, said Ann McGinley, a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “This is an important decision, which, if it is followed by other courts outside the 9th Circuit, will make it easier for lawyers to find elusive defendants,” McGinley told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I think we are moving in the direction of service by e-mail.” The case is Rio Properties, Inc., v. Rio Int’l Interlink. Copyright 2002 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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