A ruling from a U.S. District Court questions whether or not Facebook is an acceptable form of legal communication.
In 2009, a Chase credit card opened by one Lorri Fortunato ran up $1,243 worth of charges, which went unpaid. Eventually, Chase began the collections process by garnering her wages. Lorri claimed that the credit card spending spree was not her doing, and must have been opened fraudulently by her estranged daughter Nicole. After Lorri filed a claim against Chase, the bank decided they needed to find Nicole.
Chase bank told U.S. District Court Judge John Keenan that they exhausted the normal methods of serving papers and wanted to try doing it via Facebook.
New York law outlines a few methods for “service of process,” including face-to-face, via someone at the target’s place of business or dwelling, and through the mail. If all of these methods proves impractical and court can allow for another method of delivery. The court ruled that service was indeed “impractical where the defendant could not be located by means of a diligent search.”
But apparently, Facebook is not an acceptable method.
Investigators found four possible physical addresses for Nicole, as well as a Facebook profile for a Nicole Fortunato residing in the area. Judge Keenan shot down the idea of service via Facebook:
Service by Facebook is unorthodox to say the least, and this Court is unaware of any other court that has authorized such service. Furthermore, in those cases where service by email has been judicially approved, the movant supplied the Court with some facts indicating that the person to be served would be likely to receive the summons and complaint at the given email address.
Here, Chase has not set forth any facts that would give the Court a degree of certainty that the Facebook profile its investigator located is in fact maintained by Nicole or that the email address listed on the Facebook profile is operational and accessed by Nicole. Indeed, the Court’s understanding is that anyone can make a Facebook profile using real, fake, or incomplete information, and thus, there is no way for the Court to confirm whether the Nicole Fortunato the investigator found is in fact the third-party Defendant to be served.
So, in theory, if Chase could have shown with certainty that the Facebook account they had found was the Nicole Fortunato in question, the ruling may have been different. But the judge did say that service by Facebook was “unorthodox in the least” and mentioned that there’s now precedent for approve such action.
In his conclusion, Judge Keenan ruled that Chase can only resort to “service by publication,” in other words ads in a local newspaper.