You’ve Been Served. . .via Facebook

How do you serve process on someone when you do not know where they are?  As a recent ABA Journal article explains, this was a problem for Jessica Mpafe in her divorce case, as she did not have any physical address to serve her husband with papers.  Acknowledging this difficulty, Judge Kevin Burke authorized Jessica to serve notice of process to her husband by e-mail, “Facebook, Myspace, or any other social networking site.”  Judge Burke observed that traditional means to get service by publication had become “antiquated” and “prohibitively expensive.”

Judge Burke’s action was somewhat radical, as many state and federal statutes do not allow electronic service of process.  Practitioners and legal scholars have begun questioning whether it is time for that to change, however.  A 2009 article in the Federal Courts Law Review titled Electronic Service of Process at Home and Abroad: Allowing Domestic Electronic Service of Process in the Federal Courts makes a case for amending the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to allow domestic electronic service of process.  The authors, Ronald J. Hedges, Kenneth N. Rashbaum, and Adam C. Losey, point out that there is a bevy of precedent for amending the Federal rules to keep up with technology.  They also call attention to the fact that electronic documentation is already the norm in federal courts; service of process, they contend, “is the last true paper holdout in federal practice.”  Furthermore, the authors argue, technology has evolved to the point that electronic service is superior to many forms of traditional service.

The ultimate question, then, may be why should we not utilize forms of widely-available technology if they can make service cheaper, faster, and more reliable?