Back in May, the Morris County superior court ruled in favor of serving notice to a defendant via Facebook in the case of K.A. and K.I.A. v. J.L. This case was a small, yet precedential victory for countless frustrated plaintiffs who are unable to locate defendants either in person, or by mail. Even if a case seems relatively simple, the inability to serve notice to the other party can hold up a case for years. In the meanwhile, the courts have to uphold the right to due process, which includes making numerous efforts to serve notice of an upcoming legal action. In addition, the courts must decide whether or not they have jurisdiction over individuals who are not located in NJ. There are many factors that are used to determine a court's scope of jurisdiction, but the primary issue is whether an individual should reasonably expect to be held accountable in a New Jersey court.
This is well illustrated in the circumstances surrounding K.A. and K.I.A. v. J.L. The plaintiffs in K.A. are parents to an adopted child, Z.A.. They started to take legal action against their son's biological father, J.L, when he began to contact Z.A., as well as several members of the plaintiffs' families. The plaintiffs were especially upset about J.L. telling Z.A. that he was adopted via Instagram, along with the identity of his birth mother. The defendant also posted photos of the child, which he had obtained from K.A.'s Facebook page, along with statements asserting that he was the child's father.
The plaintiff's attorney sent cease and desist letters to the defendant's last known addresses, but they went unanswered (though not returned). Because they knew he was an active social media user, and they had no other means of contacting him, they applied for permission to substitute service by use of Facebook. The judge found that in this particular case, the requirements for personal jurisdiction and substituted service were met by the following circumstances: 1) defendant's intentional interaction with NJ residents through their online accounts, and the reasonable expectation that any harm arising from such contact would be handled by the NJ courts; 2) the defendant's actions gave direct rise to the cause of action filed by the plaintiffs; and 3) defendant's sole means of contact, therefore “conduits of the purported harm” was via social media. Since the accounts are still active, it would be a reasonable way to get in touch with him, although only Facebook would be allowed since it has a feature that shows whether a message has been opened.
Knowing whether the recipient has received the message is critical, since the whole point of serving notice is to notify the defendant of a pending court action. This is a fundamental aspect of due process, which has to be upheld for both parties regardless of their actions and/or inaction. For more information on New Jersey's service of process rights, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.