Federal Court in Virginia Approves of Legal Service by Facebook, LinkedIn, and Email
To those unfamiliar with Virginia or federal law, it may seem logical to notice a defendant of a lawsuit by email or through social networking sites. It is hard to imagine a more efficient way to put a defendant on actual notice. However, perhaps engrained in traditions, the law has been slow to adopt this online service, often requiring that a Complaint be hand delivered, left at someone’s front door, or in some states, mailed by certified mail. The Alexandria U.S. District Court, however, has recently approved of legal service of a Complaint by Facebook, LinkedIn and Email.1 The holding was limited but precedential nonetheless.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(f) governs service of process on an individual in a foreign country and provides for three methods of service which can be summarized as: (1) by an internationally agreed means of service such as the Hague Convention; (2) by a method that is reasonably calculated to give notice as prescribed by the foreign country’s law or authority or by personal service or certified mail; or (3) by other means not prohibited by international agreement, as the court orders.
In the Whoshere case, the plaintiff attempted to serve the defendant, who resided in Turkey, through the Turkey Ministry of Justice pursuant to the Hague Convention but the Ministry returned the service because the defendant could not be found at the address provided. The plaintiff then filed a motion requesting that it be allowed to serve the Complaint through email and social networking pursuant to Rule 4(f)(3). The Court not only approved the request but explained that the catch all of Rule 4(f)(3) is neither a last resort, nor extraordinary relief. In other words, the plaintiff was not required to attempt service through the Hague Convention (no easy feat) prior to requesting service by email or social networking. This is not the first case of this kind but it is significant and representative of a possible trend of finding that email and online service will meet due process and legal requirements.
1 Whoshere, Inc. v. Gokhan Orun, d/b/a WhoNear; Who Near; whonear.mer; Civil Action No. 1:13 cv 00526 AJT-TRJ (E.D. Va. February 20, 2014).