Serving a Defendant by Electronic Methods

Defendants might not “Like” this. However, the legal system follows new technology, though sometimes slowly.

Service of process through electronic means is growing in popularity, especially with international defendants. However, courts can be reluctant to grant it. Judges are slow to come around to new technologies.

Serving someone through electronic methods dates back several years, with some courts granting service of process through fax machines. After that, service by text and service by email was a natural progression. It was only a matter of time before Facebook and Twitter entered the game as well.

Serving someone in a federal court by electronic means is rule 4(f)(3). This Rule says service can be made by order of court, provided the method requested is not prohibited by international agreement. This is no problem for countries that are not members of the Hague Convention. Courts are divided on whether or not the Hague permits electronic service. The first school of thought is that the Hague provides the exclusive methods for service, and thereby prohibits any method that is not Article 5 service, mail service, or physical service. The second school of thought is that the Hague Convention does not expressly prohibit electronic service, so it does not violate 4(f)(3). Decisions vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

However, with Hague countries in cases where the defendant’s address is unknown, the Hague Convention does not apply. This means plaintiffs can use 4(f)(3) when the defendant has not availed themselves to service through the Convention. This is a huge win for the plaintiff so that they can have their case heard in court. The courts always prefer to allow cases to be decided on their merits rather than a procedural roadblock. Of course, proper notice is a bedrock of our legal system though.

If you are having trouble serving a defendant, you should explore all available options. Checking to make sure your new found options are in compliance with process laws and service conventions is extremely important. When you have a question, seek out an expert.