Service of process via Social Media

As a result of a new published decision, K.A. and K.I.A. v. J.L., a court found that service by Facebook would be sufficient to confer personal jurisdiction over the defendant. In K.A. and K.I.A. v. J.L., K.A. and K.I.A. were adoptive parents of their son, referred to as “Z.A.” Z.A.’s alleged biological father, J.L., had contacted not only Z.A., but also K.A. and other family members on Facebook and Instagram informing them that Z.A. was adopted and that he was the biological father of Z.A. J.L. further posted pictures on his Facebook page, holding Z.A. out as his own son. As a result of the harassing messages and publications on J.L.’s Facebook page, Z.A.’s parents commenced an action to enjoin J.L. from holding Z.A. out as his son, to enjoin him from contacting them and Z.A., and to compel J.L. to remove information pertaining to Z.A. that he published on social media.

Plaintiff’s attorney certified that he mailed cease and desist notices to J.L.’s two last known addresses, which were returned unclaimed. The only address the plaintiffs could locate was not a good address. Therefore, it was properly determined that service could not be accomplished personally or via mail. In light of the attorney’s difficulty to serve Defendant (J.L.) via mail, the Plaintiff’s attorney sought leave to effectuate substitute service of process via Facebook. The Court held that since the account holder’s (J.L.) recent activity on Facebook indicated that the account was active and that the receipts of document was probable. Further, the Court noted that Facebook included a feature that allowed the sender of the message to see whether or not the recipient opened the message. Additionally, the plaintiff’s attorney relied upon R. 4:4-4(b)(3), which permits a court to enter an order permitting service by means other than those provided by rule “consistent with due process”. Since the only communication received from Defendant was through Facebook, the Court determined that permitting service in “this case” through Facebook meets the due process requirement.

In sum, I’d be a little more cautious next time you post that status update on Facebook or new picture on Instagram – you might just get served with a Complaint for Divorce.

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