Can You Serve Someone Through Facebook?

Apparently so—at least in New York.

Here’s the gist of the story from the Socially Aware blog:

In a little-noticed decision, Matter of Noel v. Maria, Support Magistrate Gregory L. Gliedman—a Staten Island, New York family court official—recently permitted a father seeking to modify his child support payments to serve process on the child’s mother by sending her a digital copy of the summons and petition through her Facebook account.

facebook-service

This seems to be a fairly novel move even by a New York court, so I wouldn’t expect this to fly in Arkansas any time soon.

The Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure (Rule 5(b)(2)) do allow for service by email upon an attorney, but not a party. So the only time this would work is if the party is already represented by an attorney in the particular action, i.e. the rule makes service of motions and other papers more convenient, but it wouldn’t do much for the initial service of a complaint and summons.

As for how broadly a court might interpret “email,” I am not sure. Facebook messenger is not inherently less secure than email, and it serves about the same purpose. Normally rules about service are construed very strictly, but behind that strict construction is the all-important question: Did the person served understand that they are being sued and what to do about it?

As an aside, the ability to effect service on someone through Facebook would be incredibly helpful in my own family law practice—a game-changing, frustration-reducing boon. Figuring out how to serve someone is an issue in at least a third of my cases, but nearly everyone has Facebook, and you need not be friends with someone to send a message over Facebook.

A slightly related but earth-shatteringly important aside: If you think you might be facing a family law issue in court at any point in the near future, you should pay very close attention to what shows up on your social media outlets. Good: bible verses (unless they’re from Leviticus), cute kid pictures, memes involving sunshine, etc. Bad: posts about a crazy weekend or tequila or a new relationship—especially if those three happen to be related.