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New Jersey Court Permits Service of Process through Facebook

By on August 11, 2017 in Court Rulings with 1 Comment

If a plaintiff is unable to serve a complaint through personal service and is unable to locate a valid address for the defendant, what alternative means of service are available to plaintiff? That was the issue faced by plaintiffs in K.A. v. J.L., 450 N.J. Super. 247 (Ch. Div. 2016). In a published decision, approved for publication in May 2017, the Chancery Division in Essex County permitted service via Facebook.

Plaintiffs started this lawsuit to obtain an injunction to bar defendant from holding himself out as their son’s biologic father, contacting them and their son, and to compel him to remove information published about the minor online. Defendant claimed he was the child’s biological father. Plaintiffs K.A. and K.I.A. were the minor’s (Z.A.) adoptive parents and the biologic father of record was J.P. (The court used initials to protect the child’s identity.)

Defendant was a complete stranger to plaintiffs. He reached out to plaintiff K.A. through Facebook but K.A. denied his friend request. He then contacted the minor Z.A.  through Instagram, identifying himself as his biologic father, disclosing the identity of his birth mother and that he had biological siblings. He also tried to reach Z.A.’s sister through Facebook.

The plaintiffs retained counsel who sent the defendant cease and desist letters by regular and certified mail at his two last known addresses in Pennsylvania. The regular mail letter was not returned but the certified mail letters came back as undeliverable as addressed. In light of the inability to serve defendant by mail, the plaintiffs applied for an order to effectuate substituted service of process through Facebook.

As a preliminary matter, the court had to determine whether New Jersey was able to assert personal jurisdiction over the defendant. The court found that the defendant’s contacts in reaching out to various New Jersey residents was sufficient to confer specific jurisdiction over the defendant.

However, service of process must be effected as an additional requirement for personal jurisdiction. Per New Jersey’s court rules, a plaintiff must serve the complaint on the defendant personally. If the plaintiff is unable to serve the defendant personally, there are secondary methods available (such as by mail or publication). As a last resort, the court rules permit service as set forth in a court order, consistent with due process.

Here the plaintiff was unable to secure a good address, precluding service personally or by mail. The court found that “Given that the Facebook and Instagram addresses at issue are the sole conduits of the purported harm, service via Facebook is reasonably calculated to apprise the account holder of the pendency of this action and afford him or her an opportunity to defend against plaintiff’s claims.” The defendant’s recent activity on Facebook indicated that the account was active and that the receipt of the documents was probable. Also the court was satisfied that the Facebook account belonged to the defendant. Thus, the court found that service through Facebook met the due process requirement and permitted service of the complaint to be effected in this manner.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

For the years 2020 and 2021, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

“Best Law Firms” is published by Best Lawyers in partnership with U.S. News & World Report. For a description of the selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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  1. Much easier but extremely unprofessional to me.

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