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Watch out — that next Facebook message might just be a summons

A trial court judge in New York recently ruled a Brooklyn woman may serve her husband a summons and complaint for divorce though a Facebook private message. The court authorized service of process through the social media site after repeated attempts to reach the husband using traditional methods failed. The man, who claims to have no fixed address or place of employment, only communicated with his estranged wife though the telephone and Facebook messenger.

The judge, in granting the motion for alternative service, ruled that the “advent and ascendency of social media” means sites such as Facebook and Twitter are the “next frontier” as “forums through which a summons can be delivered.” However, before the woman could use the social media site to effectuate service, the judge cautioned she must show the account she has been using to communicate with her husband was indeed his and was authentic. (Those interested in the court’s order can read it here.) Once a second Facebook message was sent, the husband acknowledged receipt of the summons.

Maryland’s rule on alternative service is Rule 2-121 or 2-122 for circuit court and 3-121 for district court. I’ll admit, since changing jobs in October to work for the federal government, my knowledge of the Maryland Rules of Civil Procedure is not what it once was. However, I see no reason why a similar ruling could not occur in Maryland should a court find that a defendant is evading service as outlined in the Rules. As long as an individual’s account can be verified or authenticated, that might be the easiest way to get a hold of a litigant.

I can’t say I’m surprised that service of process has finally found its way to the internet and social media, however. While service of an initial summons almost always must be done in person, I’m glad the judge decided a Facebook message was sufficient if the account could be verified. No longer can a defendant attempt to hide or evade service by not having a fixed residence or place of employment.

Most people have Facebook readily accessible on their smartphones, tablets, computers, watches, or any other type of technology that might be invented. Why shouldn’t lawyers be able to take full use of the many means of communication that are available? Would you ever use Facebook or another social media site to serve an uncooperative defendant? Just wait until courts start issuing jury summons by social media to jury duty evaders!

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