New York litigants in Family Court may want to keep a cautious eye on their Facebook notifications from here on out.
As of September 12, 2014, Facebook Messenger is the latest way in which a party may be served with court documents. On that date, Staten Island Support Magistrate Gregory Gliedman issued an Order permitting the Petitioner, a Noel Biscocho, to serve his ex-wife, Anna Maria Antigua, on a child support matter through the popular social networking site.
Traditionally, service of court documents is conducted pursuant to the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules, or CPLR. Under the CPLR, service is usually either made upon the other party's person or through mail. In order to use a non-traditional service method, a litigant must request and obtain special permission from the court, after showing that they have attempted to serve the other party in compliance with the statute but that those methods were either not successful or practicable.
A Shift in Policy Reflecting Modern Technology
Over the past few years, Judges have started to permit service by email as well where a litigant has been more difficult to get ahold of or been deliberately dodging the more typical service efforts. This is especially useful in proceedings where a party resides out of state or abroad.
This is not the first time that Facebook has been used to serve papers upon a non-cooperative litigant. Federal Judges have permitted service through Facebook Messenger where the Defendants lived abroad, had been avoiding regular service methods, and had clearly identifiable and active Facebook accounts. In those instances, the Court also ordered that service be made by email as a "backup" to ensure that the Defendant could not claim a lack of notice.
Unique Implications for New York and Future Litigants
What makes the ruling in Staten Island particularly important is that it is the first time that this method of service has been permitted in New York, and also the first time that Facebook service has been permitted in the United States where the person being served does not reside in another country.
Here, Biscocho's youngest child with his ex-wife had turned twenty-one years old and he had moved for the Court to terminate his support obligation. However, despite numerous attempts to serve Antigua through traditional service methods such as personal service and mail, Biscocho was still unable to reach her, and when he inquired with her friends and acquaintances regarding where she was or how to reach her, his efforts were rebuffed.
At the same time, during the course of attempted service, Biscocho became aware that his ex-wife maintained an active Facebook account, which she utilized during the period that he was attempting to serve her. Therefore, the Court ruled that since other methods were clearly not practicable, Biscocho could Antigua through the Facebook account that she was still utilizing.
Perhaps this new trend should not be surprising, for as several other legal commentators have noted, Facebook messenger works very similarly to email, where documents can be attached and sent. Additionally, there is a timestamp that appears in the messaging thread when the person receiving the message has opened the thread and seen the most recent contents.
In a world where we are so deeply integrated with technology, and where clients want a faster legal process, instant electronic service is not only the most logical step forward, but the most practical one as well.