Can You Really Use Social Media to Serve Legal Papers?

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Social media is a hot topic when it comes to the law.  For one, there’s the importance of keeping a low profile when involved in a divorce or custody dispute.  However, the courts may look at Facebook and other social media platforms from a new vantage point.  Could the wave of the future mean service of process via social media?

First and foremost, you should be aware that there are actually rules concerning serving legal papers.  The New Jersey Court Rules contain specific language regarding effectuating service.  The preferred manner is personal service.  In most cases, your attorney will forward the documents to the local sheriff’s office or an authorized process server.

Other Accepted Service of Process

However, that’s not always the case.   Service may also be attempted by both certified and regular mail.  And, when the other party cannot be located?  A legal notice may be placed in the local newspaper.  Now that technology has evolved into online periodicals, you can find legal notices on the Internet.

 For example, you should take a look at the Legal Notice section of NJ.com.  NJ.com covers four newspapers, including both the Star-Ledger and Jersey Journal.  

Of course, there’s always the potential for problems in serving legal papers.  For one, the adverse party may have moved out of state.  There are a separate set of rules reasons for bringing someone into New Jersey for a legal matter.  However, that’s a topic for another day.

 And then, there’s also the possibility that you just can’t find a physical address for service.

That’s where social media may play a part.   And, according to a newly published case, it may become acceptable.

It Started with Social Media

First, let’s start with the statement of facts contained in K.A. & K.I.A. v. J.L...  (As an aside, the court opinion uses initials for privacy purposes since the case involves a child.)

K.A. and K.I.A. are the plaintiffs in this matter and are adoptive parents to a son, identified as Z.A. in the legal papers.  Meanwhile, Z.A.’s biological father is referenced as J.P.   He is not a party to the lawsuit.

Someone with the initials J.L. is the actual defendant in this matter.  Actually, the plaintiffs assert that J.L. is a total stranger.  Even so, J.L. has given them great cause for concern.

For starters, J.L. initiated a Facebook request to K.A., the adoptive father.   The friend request was denied.  Nonetheless, J.L. was persistent.   He then located Z.A.’s Instagram account and communicated with the young man.

Through Instagram messages, J.L. asserted he was actually the child’s biological father.  The defendant then shared information concerning who he purported were “his son’s” biological mother.  Additionally, he indicated that Z.A. had other biological siblings.

Next, J.L. went on to update his own social media posts.  To begin with, he lifted a picture of Z.A. from K.A.’s Facebook profile picture.  He used it to add to a collage of photographs with other individuals, identifying them all as his children.

The saga continued.  Since J.L. wasn’t able to ensue communication with K.A., he made a new Facebook friend request.   K.A.’s sister also denied interest in the contact.  Nonetheless, it was assumingly becoming creepy enough that the plaintiff’s sought legal counsel.

Issues with Effectuating Service of Process

As a first step, the plaintiffs’ attorney attempted to mail cease and desist letters to J.L.  In accordance with court rules for out of state residents, this was done by certified mail.  In fact, the letters were transmitted to the defendant’s two last known addresses.  Both were returned by the post office as unable to be delivered.

Meanwhile, J.L. continued to make social media posts on a daily basis.  The plaintiffs’ attorney came up with a novel idea.  At this point, it seemed reasonable that service of process could be effectuated via Facebook.

When the court considered the matter, one of the issues was that the defendant was out of state.  As we mentioned previously, there are certain rules concerning serving individuals not in the jurisdiction.   Nonetheless, J.L. had contacted the plaintiffs in New Jersey.  In particular, he had targeted their son.

Accordingly, the court found that because New Jersey residents had been contacted via the internet, there was sufficient reason justifying personal jurisdiction.  And, since the defendant used social media to make contact, it seemed even more appropriate to use it as a means of effectuating service of process.

The court noted that Facebook has a feature that allows senders to determine if their messages have been received.  Since service could not be obtained by mail, it was deemed acceptable to serve J.L. by Facebook message.  In this way, the defendant would know that the plaintiffs would be seeking an injunction to prohibit his contact.

Notwithstanding, service of legal documents using social media is to be determined on an individual basis.  One of the tests to determine if it can be employed relies on the failure of conventional methods of service of process.

Contact Us

If you are involved in a family law matter and have concerns about effectuating service of process, the Law Offices of Sam Stoia can assist you.  Contact our office to schedule an appointment to discuss your situation and concerns.  There is no charge to meet with us.