With the advent of technology and massive use of social networking forums, it is only a matter of time before electronic service of process starts replacing the traditional methods of service of process.
Recently, a Judge in Minnesota was faced with the challenge of serving a husband with divorce papers where the wife had not seen her husband in years and had no physical address to serve him. The wife asked the court if she could send the notice by general delivery. According to the Judge, it did not make any sense to use general delivery as it would only result in waste of postage. Furthermore, the Judge did not trust publication of notices in legal newspapers because it is unlikely that someone would look at a legal newspaper to learn that their spouse wants to get divorced.
To resolve this, the Judge, authorized the wife to serve notice of process to her husband by email, Facebook, Myspace or any other social networking site. The Judge acknowledged the traditional ways of service of process but emphasized that the social networking sites provide a cheaper and more effective way. This was a radical move because although electronic service of process is common in Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, it is extremely rare in the United States. Another example where the court authorized the use of electronic service of process was in a trademark infringing action where the defendant had neither an office not a home address. All it had was a computer terminal with an email address.
Lawyers across the nation have mixed reactions to this growing trend of using electronic service of process. Some believe that the traditional ways of communication have become obsolete in this world of social networking. Therefore, they believe that the courts should adapt to the new ways of communication. On the other hand, some have raised privacy concerns due to the broadcasting nature of these social networking sites. And some lawyer’s are concerned with the use of electronic service for pro se litigants. Many low-income people do not have home computers or email addresses. These people usually go to public libraries to access the Internet and not everyone is proficient to navigate the system. Therefore, the courts also need to address a reasonable way to deal with these litigants.
For now, all we can do is to just wait and watch the courts’ next move. And who knows, may be in the next few years the courts will also allow electronic service via text messaging.
© 2012 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC