By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) - This is one poke no Facebook user
A Manhattan federal judge has ruled that U.S. government
lawyers can serve legal documents on a group of defendants in
India through the social networking site.
While plaintiffs have increasingly been allowed to use email
to serve court papers, the case law is scant when it comes to
presenting defendants with documents via messages on Facebook
and other social media.
In his ruling, issued last week, U.S. District Judge Paul
Engelmayer acknowledged that service through Facebook was a
"relatively novel concept," and the defendants might not receive
legal notice through it.
But since the government was also serving the documents
through email, Facebook would act as a backstop, he said.
Courts, Engelmayer wrote, must be open to new technologies
"rather than dismissing them out of hand."
The ruling comes in a case brought in September by the
Federal Trade Commission against a corporation known as
PCCare247 Inc, as well as several other entities and individual
defendants. The FTC has accused them of operating a call center
scam that tricked U.S. citizens into paying to fix phony
Engelmayer issued a preliminary injunction against the
defendants in November. Since then, he said in the ruling, the
defendants have not complied with the terms of the injunction.
While the United States and India are signatories to the
Hague Service Convention, which governs serving lawsuits abroad,
it does not list email or Facebook as a means of alternative
Engelmayer said, however, that courts are allowed to
authorize alternative means of service not listed in the treaty.
In one of the few other cases dealing with similar issues
that Engelmayer cited in his ruling, another New York jurist,
Judge John Keenan, in June denied a request by a unit of
JPMorgan Chase & Co to serve through Facebook a third-party
complaint against the daughter of a woman suing the bank.
Keenan had said that JPMorgan hadn't provided him a way to
be certain the daughter maintained the Facebook account.
In the FTC's case, Engelmayer said the commission had put
forward facts "that supply ample reason for confidence that the
Facebook accounts identified are actually operated by
The judge said if the FTC had only been seeking to serve
them by Facebook, "a substantial question would arise whether
that service comports with due process."
Samuel Issacharoff, a professor at New York University
School of Law, said while he had never heard of a court allowing
service through Facebook, it's not surprising, since U.S. courts
have moved past service by certified mail to allowing it by
Facebook is only "a small further step" in making service
meaningful and cost-effective, he said.
Courts in New Zealand and Australia have allowed service by
Facebook, according to a 2009 article in The Federal Courts Law
Review. And in 2009, the UK High Court allowed service in a case
A spokesman for the FTC had no immediate comment, while the
defendants could not be reached. Facebook declined to comment
on the ruling.
The case is Federal Trade Commission v. PCCare247 Inc, U.S.
District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 12-07189.
For the Federal Trade Commission: Christine Todaro, Colleen
Robbins, Kelly Horne and Benjamin Davidson.
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