For The First Time, New Jersey Court Permits Service of Process Via Facebook Post

In a case of first impression in New Jersey, Hon. Stephan C. Hansbury, Presiding Judge of the Chancery Court in Morris County permitted service of process through postings on Facebook. The court held that when service of process cannot be served on a defendant by traditional means, the rules of civil procedure permit an alternate form of service, like Facebook. K.A. and K.I.A. v. J.L., Docket No. C-157-15 (Ch. Div., April 11, 2016)

Plaintiffs, K.A. and K.I.A., filed this lawsuit to prevent defendant, J.L., from holding himself out as the father of their son, Z.A., to enjoin defendant from contacting plaintiffs and Z.A., and to compel defendant to remove information about Z.A. that J.L. published online.

K.A. and K.I.A. are the adoptive parents of Z.A. Plaintiffs claimed that defendant contacted Z.A. through various social media platforms, including Facebook, told Z.A. that he was adopted, identified himself as Z.A.’s biological father, and disclosed both the identity of Z.A.’s birth mother and that Z.A. has biological siblings. Plaintiffs claimed that Z.A.’s biological father is actually J.P., and that none of the other information provided by defendant was accurate.

Plaintiffs’ attorney mailed cease and desist notices to defendant’s two last known addresses, both of which were in Pennsylvania, by certified and regular mail. The certified mailings were returned as unclaimed, but the regular mail was not returned. Since they were having problems in reaching defendant by mail, plaintiffs sought permission from the court to effect substituted service of process via Facebook.

The issue was whether the court may assert personal jurisdiction over defendant by virtue of the service of the order to show cause and complaint by Facebook. First, the court determined it had personal jurisdiction over defendant because, as the holder of the social media accounts, defendant knowingly reached out to various members of plaintiffs’ family, who are New Jersey residents, and the resultant harm was concentrated in New Jersey.

Next, and finally, the court found that service through Facebook met the constitutional requirements of “due process”:

The ‘constitutional requirements of service of process’ are ‘notice reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objection.’ … Given that the Facebook and Instagram accounts 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 plaintiffs’ claims. The account holder’s recent activity on Facebook indicates that the account is active and that receipt of the documents is probable. Additionally, Facebook includes a feature that allows the sender of a message to see whether the recipient has opened the same, thus indicating that the recipient is on notice of the message’s contents.

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The only communication received from defendant has been through the Facebook account. Permitting service in this case through Facebook meets the due process requirement.

Having found that it had personal jurisdiction over the defendant and service via Facebook publication satisfied due process, the court issued the restraints sought by plaintiffs. The court found that there was no adequate remedy at law, that there was substantial, immediate, and irreparable harm to this young boy if the injunction were not granted and that plaintiffs’ position is meritorious, since “imposing a stranger suddenly on this young boy, particularly in this manner, is dangerous. Equities fall clearly on plaintiffs’ side.”

The case is annexed here – K.A. and K.I.A. v. J.L, Docket No. C-157-15 (Ch. Div., April 11, 2016)

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