Is it possible to serve someone process in 140 characters or less over such social media platforms as Twitter? Many seem to think yes. A new debate currently brewing within the legal community is whether state and federal laws should be amended to allow for service of process on new media and social media platforms. Many argue that the antiquated rules of service of process are no longer relevant in our ever-evolving technology driven society. According to the American Bar Association Journal, Minnesota resident Jessica Mpafe was recently looking to serve her husband with divorce papers. However, she had no physical address or means of locating him so the judge wrote an order authorizing Mpafe to serve notice of process to her husband by “email, ‘Facebook, Myspace or any other social networking site.’” Is this the wave of the future?

Currently electronic service of process is only available in federal practice for serving individuals in foreign countries under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(f)(3). Otherwise, each jurisdiction has its own rules regarding the means of service of process, and typically documents can only be served upon a defendant personally at the person’s residence or place of business (in some cases, service of process may be delivered through the mail). In exceptional cases, service may be authorized by procedural rules or court order. The Federal Rules were first adopted in 1938, years before the advent of email, blogs, Facebook, or Twitter. One could argue that in 2011 people are more prone to check their Facebook mailbox than their home mailbox.

Many are now advocating that the federal rules be amended to reflect the changing tide in new media technology. However, before any sweeping changes in legislation can be effectuated, several key questions must first be answered. How does one verify receipt of electronic service of process? How does one ensure the authenticity of an email address or social media profile? Leave a comment with your thoughts.

– Jaia A. Thomas, Esq.

Jaia A. Thomas is an entertainment law attorney based in New York. She received her J.D. from The George Washington University Law School in 2006.

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3 Responses to You’ve Been Served…Via Twitter

  1. Carolina Blanco says:

    I think allowing service of process on social media platforms could be a good form of alternate service when personal service is not a feasible option. For alternate forms of service, most jurisdictions require that the serving party show that personal service is not possible. The serving party must show failed attempts to make personal service and that an alternate form of service will reach the defendant and give notice of the proceedings. Under circumstances where a defendant’s whereabouts are unknown and cannot be served personally, using social media platforms as an alternate method for service seems to be a good option. It would provide the required notice and like Kevin said, someone will probably develop a way to confirm receipt.

    But confirmation might not even be required. Some jurisdictions permit service by publication of a notice in a newspaper and there is no way to confirm that the defendant has actually read the notice. On the other hand, because there is no confirmation of receipt, the serving party takes the risk that a court might later find the defendant could have been served personally. So if service of process is allowed through social media platforms, it would be better if confirmation of receipt were possible and that the serving party makes a diligent effort to serve the defendant personally prior to using social media as an alternate form of service.

  2. Kevin Lumpkin says:

    Interesting question about verification. There are some existing services out there on the Internet that will verify the receipt of things. For example, some e-card services will notify the sender when the receiver picks up the card. I suppose an enterprising company could develop an e-service website that would provide verficiation of e-service of process.

    Of course, I think the current systems depend on the user being willing to click through to the “e-card.” I’m not sure litigants will be as excited to click through to a summons as they would be to click through to an e-card!

  3. Marina Visan says:

    While serving electronically could make the entire process run more smoothly, we must maintain the structure and fairness that traditional serving was meant to preserve. I used to work in family law with self-represented litigants, and there were certainly times when the litigants were incredibly upset about the delay that resulted from not knowing the location of the defendant and not being able to serve him/her personally. However, surprisingly, once we would inform litigants of these delays, which in California could be of several months, many times they would somehow figure out a way to locate the defendant to avoid the delay in their case.

    Even though the plaintiffs were frustrated, we always explained to them that serving the defendants personally (or by certified mail) would be the only fair way to ensure them a voice in the case. For example, in divorce cases in California, if the respondent fails to file a timely response, the petitioner is entitled to a default judgment in which he/she proceeds without the respondent’s participation. The judgment will reflect the petition and what the petitioner initially asked for, without the respondent’s input. This is why being served personally and being aware of the pending case is very important to respondents. Getting served online might not be flawless, and the respondent could be left out of the divorce proceedings if something does go wrong online and he/she is unaware of the case. It goes without saying that when kids and their custody are involved, the issue becomes even more controversial. Therefore, in my opinion, if the laws do change, serving electronically should only be permitted in exceptional circumstances and only once all the questions raised in the post are answered, especially because in my experience, many times litigants are able to figure out a way to serve the defendants personally if they know there would otherwise be a delay.