NY court OK’s service of divorce summons through Facebook

April 10, 2015

facebook law practiceLast October, I wrote about the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling that a Facebook message is insufficient for a pregnant woman to legally notify the putative father of the pregnancy, finding the social media site to be “unreliable.”

However, a ruling out of New York at the end of March found Facebook to be the most reliable means of communication, at least in the particular factual circumstances of the case.

The case, Baidoo v. Blood-Dzraku, involves Ellanora Baidoo, a woman seeking to file for divorce from her husband, Victor Blood-Dzraku.  Because Blood-Dzraku has “has no fixed address and no place of employment,” Baidoo has had difficulty effecting traditional service of process on him.  Indeed, Blood-Dzraku’s last known address was used in 2011, with the post office confirming that he no longer resides at that address and having no forwarding address on file for him; furthermore, there is no billing address linked to Blood-Dzraku’s pre-paid cell phone, and the Department of Motor Vehicles has no record of him whatsoever.

With these difficulties in mind, the court approved Facebook not only as a supplementary means of service (as other courts have already done), but as the sole one.

This ruling isn’t likely to herald the coming of widespread use of Facebook as a major service of process method.  The court opinion was careful to go through every form of process approved by New York law and explain why each one would be ineffective in this circumstance – most of these reasons having to do with the fact that Blood-Dzraku has no home address or place of employment.

In addition, the court thoroughly addressed concerns that may arise with service conducted through a Facebook private message.  First, the court required Baidoo “to submit a supplemental affidavit to verify that the Facebook account she references is indeed that of [Blood-Dzraku].”  The affidavit contained conversations between Baidoo and Blood-Dzraku, along with identifications by Baidoo that the photographs appearing on Blood-Dzraku’s page to be him.

While the court acknowledged the possibility that these exchanges and the Facebook page itself could have been fabricated by Baidoo or someone at her behest, the court was nonetheless persuaded “that the account in question does indeed belong to [Blood-Dzraku].”

The court next raised the concern that if Blood-Dzraku “is not diligent in logging on to his Facebook account, he runs the risk of not seeing the summons until the time to respond has passed.”  But Baidoo’s affidavit also demonstrated to the court’s satisfaction that Blood-Dzraku regularly logs into his Facebook account.  In addition, the court noted that Baidoo or her attorney could contact Blood-Dzraku by phone or text message to alert him to check his Facebook page.

Finally, the court addressed the concern of whether it is truly appropriate to allow service on Facebook as the sole means of service, rather than a supplementary one.  However, because Blood-Dzraku doesn’t even have a known email address, there are virtually no other reliable service methods available besides Facebook.

Interestingly, the court also acknowledged that service by publication, while specifically sanctioned by statute, is even less reliable since the chances of Blood-Dzraku reading such a published notice is “infinitesimal.”

This observation perhaps demonstrates how behind on the times the law can be: Facebook has been judicially recognized to be more reliable than a means specifically authorized by statute – and the usage of which dates back centuries.

And that’s probably the major takeaway from the ruling.  True, as stated already, this ruling doesn’t mean that Facebook has become an acceptable form of service in general.  But it has been recognized to be more reliable than service by publication, and in circumstances where a defendant has no address or place of employment, Facebook may be the most reliable channel available to effect service of process.

With the increasing mobility in today’s society, this ruling is more likely the first of its kind, rather than a one-time aberration.