Yes, You Can Use Facebook to Serve a Lawsuit on an Out of State Defendant…Sometimes (Part 2 of a 2-Part Series)

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright a Freehold Township, Monmouth County New Jersey Trial and Litigation Attorney

Part 1 of this series described a recent case where Facebook was used to serve in a trial litigation matter.

The Court Decision

The issue presented here is whether the court is able to assert personal jurisdiction over defendant by virtue of the service of the lawsuit by Facebook. As a preliminary matter, the addresses that plaintiffs allege are defendants are out of State. A court cannot assert jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant unless such defendant has engaged in contact with the home state of a plaintiff. An out-of-state activity constitutes a contact with the home state for the purposes of jurisdiction of the court where the actor knows/knew that its effect(s) would be manifested in the home state. This “effects test” has been used to support findings of jurisdiction over defendants whose out-of-state conduct reach into NJ and targets an in-state resident, thus making the state of NJ state the focal point of the harm.

Here, the only contacts with New Jersey alleged of defendant are a handful of activities carried out through social media that target NJ residents, plaintiff’s son. Though these activities are not continuous and systematic such that they support a finding of general jurisdiction, they are sufficient to justify specific jurisdiction over certain causes of action. The court can properly exercise jurisdiction over the account holder for the purpose of addressing plaintiff’s allegations.

If a plaintiff’s reasonable, good-faith attempt to effectuate personal service proves unsuccessful; the plaintiff may then attempt to effectuate service using the secondary methods prescribed in the court rules. Service of process via Facebook is in certain circumstances permissible given that the Facebook and Instagram accounts are the sole cause of the harm.  Service via Facebook will likely apprise the account holder of the pendency of the lawsuit and afford him or her an opportunity to defend against plaintiff’s 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 is on notice of the message’s contents. Here, the court was satisfied that the only method of service available to plaintiffs is Facebook.

Contact me personally today to discuss your New Jersey trial and litigation matter.  I am easy to talk to, very approachable and can offer you practical, legal ways to handle your concerns.  You can reach me toll free at (855) 376-5291 or e-mail me at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.

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