Service of process by social media just got a serious vote of confidence.
A state judge’s opinion from last year approving an instance of service by Facebook—which made waves more recently as an attorney in the case brought it to light—was approved for publication by the state Supreme Court’s Committee on Opinions Wednesday.
In the opinion, dated April 11, 2016, Morris County Presiding Chancery Part Judge Stephan Hansbury said that because the traditional contact methods of certified and regular mail failed in the case, service via Facebook was proper—since the social media platform appeared to be the only viable means of contacting the defendant, and it was clear that the defendant was actively using his account.
“[S]ervice via Facebook is reasonably calculated to apprise the account holder of the pendency of the action and afford him or her an opportunity to defendant against plaintiffs’ claims,” Hansbury said.
The case, in which Hansbury refers to the parties by initials only, involves a Morris County couple, K.A. and K.I.A., and their adopted son, Z.A., who at the time the complaint was filed was 10 years old. Z.A.’s biological father is a person identified only as J.P.
The complaint alleged that defendant J.L. began contacting Z.A. through an Instagram account and then, using photos he copied and pasted from K.A.’s Facebook account, began falsely identifying himself as Z.A.’s biological father.
The plaintiffs, in a motion seeking a permanent injunction, said J.L. was a “complete stranger” and that they had no contact with him until he began posting Z.A.’s photos on his Facebook page and began to pretend to be the boy’s biological father.
The family’s attorney, Mahwah solo James Miskowski, told the court he tried unsuccessfully to serve J.L. through certified mail and regular mail. He knew that J.L. lived somewhere in Pennsylvania, but added that service through publication was useless since he did not know where in the state J.L. lived.
“If … a plaintiff’s reasonable good-faith attempt to effectuate personal service proves unsuccessful, then plaintiffs may then attempt to effectuate service using other secondary methods,” Hansbury said.
“The account holder’s recent activity indicates that the account is active and that receipt of the documents is probable,” he wrote. “Here, the court is satisfied that the only methods of service available to plaintiffs is Facebook.”
Service of process through social media is not new. In New York state, last year, a trial judge permitted the service of a divorce complaint through Facebook when the complainant could not locate the defendant.
However, Miskowski said the court rules need to be updated to reflect current realities and methods of communication.
“None of the rules have been updated for years,” Miskowski said. “This is a whole new opportunity for service of process.”
Newspaper notices simply don’t work anymore, he said. “People just don’t read newspapers,” Miskowski said. “But 1.7 billion people use Facebook. The whole purpose is to ensure that the defendant receives proper notice.”
Hansbury issued the restraining order, and Miskowski said J.L. has since ceased making posts regarding his alleged paternity claims.
The parties were identified only by their initials at the plaintiffs’ request to avoid embarrassment, Miskowski said.