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British High Court Permits Service Via Facebook: Will U.S. Courts Follow?

By Nick Nelson

The Associated Press reports that a High Court Judge in England last week approved the use of Facebook to serve legal documents on a defendant in a commercial dispute.

According to the report, the plaintiffs had attempted to serve the defendant at his last known address, but it wasn?ÇÖt clear whether the individual was still living there.?á The defendant?ÇÖs e-mail address was also unknown.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs told the High Court that there was evidence that the defendant?ÇÖs Facebook account, on the other hand, was active ?Çô he had just recently accepted two new friend requests.

Under these circumstances, Justice Nigel Teare granted the plaintiffs?ÇÖ request to serve the defendant via Facebook.?á According to Jenni Jenkins, an attorney for plaintiffs who was quoted by the Associated Press, the defendant was given extra time to respond to the claim ?Ç£to allow for the possibility that he wasn?ÇÖt accessing his account regularly.?Ç¥

Stories in Legal Week and the Telegraph give additional details.?á The Telegraph notes that ?Ç£Facebook is routinely used to serve claims in Australia and New Zealand, and has been used a handful of times in Britain [but] this is the first time it has been approved at such a high level.?Ç¥

In 2008, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that an Australian court ordered that a default judgment could be served on defendants by notification on Facebook.?á In 2010, the Herald reported that another Australian court permitted a paternity test order to be served via Facebook.

Various commentators have noted that service via social networking sites may not be far off in the United States.?á Jeffrey N. Rosenthall, writing for the Legal Intelligencer, compares social networking sites to the fax machine and notes that New York in 1988 became the first state to authorize service via fax ?Çô a practice that is now commonplace.

Rosenthall also notes that last year a Minnesota state judge allowed a woman to give notice of divorce to her absentee husband via Facebook, in the case of In re the Marriage of Jessica Mpafe v. Clarence Ndjounwou Mpafe.

Joseph DeMarco, co-chair of the American Bar Association?ÇÖs criminal justice cyber crime committee, told Bloomberg that service via Facebook is sometimes the only way to effect service, suggesting that service via Facebook in the United States is inevitable.?á According to DeMarco, ?Ç£There are people who exist only online.?Ç¥

Nick Nelson is an Associate in the Business Litigation and Social Media Practice Groups in the Dallas office of Haynes and Boone, LLP.

Matthew Deffebach is a partner in the Labor and Employment Practice Group of Haynes and Boone. He is certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization as a labor and employment law specialist. In 2010, Law360 named him a rising star and one of 10 employment lawyers under 40 to watch. He was selected for inclusion in Texas Super Lawyers - Rising Stars Edition (2005-2010). Matthew was recognized as a Texas Super Lawyer by Texas Monthly in Employment and Labor (2010-2011).

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One Response to “British High Court Permits Service Via Facebook: Will U.S. Courts Follow?”

  1. […] when it looked like Facebook was set to be the next big thing in service of legal process, one federal court is having none of […]

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February 2012