You are on page 1of 5

2015NYSlipOp25096

ELLANORAARTHURBAIDOO,Plaintiff,
v.
VICTORSENABLOODDZRAKU,Defendant.
No.310947/2014.
SupremeCourt,NewYorkCounty.
DecidedMarch27,2015.
AndrewJ.Spinnell,Esq.,275MadisonAvenue,Suite1000,NewYork,NY10016,(212)6840317,forthePlaintiff.
MATTHEWF.COOPER,J.
Asrecentlyastenyearsago,itwasconsideredacuttingedgedevelopmentincivilpracticeforacourttoallowtheservice
ofasummonsbyemail.Sincethen,emailhasallbutreplacedordinarymailasameansofwrittencommunication.And
whilethelegislaturehasyettomakeemailastatutorilyauthorizedmethodfortheserviceofprocess,[1]courtsarenow
routinelypermittingitasaformofalternativeservice.
Thepastdecadehasalsoseentheadventandascendencyofsocialmedia,withwebsitessuchasFacebookandTwitter
occupyingacentralplaceinthelivesofsomanypeople.[2]Thus,itwouldappearthatthenextfrontierinthedeveloping
lawoftheserviceofprocessovertheinternetistheuseofsocialmediasitesasforumsthroughwhichasummonscanbe
delivered.Inthismatrimonialaction,theissuebeforethecourt,bywayofplaintiffwife'sexparteapplication,iswhethershe
mayservedefendanthusbandwiththedivorcesummonssolelybysendingitthroughFacebookbyprivatemessagetohis
account.
Thestandardmethodorperhapsbetterstated,themethodoffirstresortforservingthesummonsinadivorceaction
ispersonaldeliverytoadefendant(NewYorkDomesticRelationsLaw[DRL]232[a]).Thisreflectsthegreatemphasis
thatthisstateplacesoninsuringthatapersonwhoisbeingsuedfordivorceaproceedingthatcanhaveimmeasurable
financialandfamilialconsequencesbemadeawareofandaffordedtheopportunitytoappearintheaction.Theproblem
withpersonalservice,ofcourse,isthatitinorderforittobeaccomplished,aplaintiffmustbeabletolocatethedefendant.
Evenwhereadefendant'swhereaboutsareknown,therearetimeswhenitislogisticallydifficult,ifnotimpossible,fora
processservertogainthecloseproximitynecessaryforpersonaldelivery.
Fortunately,theDomesticRelationsLawprovidesaremedyforapersonwhoisseekingadivorcebutfacestheprospectof
beingunabletoeffectpersonalservice.DRL232permitsplaintiffstorequestpermissiontoutilizeoneofthealternative
methodsallowedundertheCivilPracticeLawandRules(CPLR)thatdoesnotrequire"inhand"deliverytothedefendant.
Onesuchmethod,oftenreferredtoas"substituteservice,"involvesdeliveringthesummonstoapersonof"suitableage
anddiscretion"atthedefendant's"actualplaceofbusiness,dwellingorusualplaceofabode"(CPLR308[2]).Another
method,knownas"nailandmail"service,requiresaffixingthesummonstothedoorofadefendant's"actualplaceof
business,dwellingorusualplaceofabode"(CPLR308[4]),andthen,aswith"substituteservice,"mailingacopytothe
defendant's"lastknownaddress"or"actualplaceofbusiness."Athirdmethodis"publicationservice,"wherethesummons
isprintedinanewspaperdesignatedbythecourtandwhichcanbegranteduponashowingthat"servicecannotbemade
byanotherprescribedmethodwithduediligence"(CPLR315).
Additionally,pursuanttoCPLR308(5),acourt,uponaplaintiff'sexparteapplication,maydirectthemannerbywhich
serviceistobemade.Thisallowsacourttogobeyondanyofthespecificallyprescribedmethodsofserviceanddevisea
methodthatfitstheparticularcircumstancesofthecase.AnapplicationforalternativeserviceunderCPLR308(5)canbe
grantedonlyuponasufficientshowingthatpersonalservice,"substituteservice,"or"nailandmail"servicewouldprove
"impracticable."Caselaw,inaccordancewithwellestablishedconstitutionalprinciples,furtherimposestherequirement

thatthemethoddevisedbythecourtbeonethatis"reasonablycalculated,underallthecircumstances,toapprise[the
defendant]ofthependencyoftheaction"(HollowvHollow,193Misc2d691,696[SupCt,OswegoCounty,2002][quoting
MullanevCent.HanoverBank&TrustCo.,339US306,314(1950)]).
Intheinstantapplication,plaintiffasksthecourttofindthatserviceofthedivorcesummonsviaasocialmediasite,inthis
caseFacebook,constitutesanappropriateformofalternativeserviceunderCPLR308(5).Moreover,contendingthatshe
hasnootherwaytoreachdefendant,sherequeststhatthisjudiciallycraftedmethodofservicebedesignatedtheonly
meansbywhichnoticeofthedivorceactionisgiven.Inorderforherapplicationtobegranted,plaintiffmustfirst
demonstratethatsheisunabletohavethesummonspersonallyservedondefendant,themethodofserviceinitially
prescribedbyDRL232(a).Next,shemustshowthatitwouldbe"impracticable"toservehimby"substituteservice"ona
personofsuitableageanddiscretion(CPLR308[2])orbyusing"nailandmail"(CPLR308[4]).Finally,shemustshowthat
sendingthesummonsthroughFacebookcanreasonablybeexpectedtogivehimactualnoticethatheisbeingsuedfor
divorce.
Plaintiffhaseasilymettherequirementofdemonstratingthatshewillbeunabletoeffectpersonalserviceondefendant.
Althoughthepartiesmarriedin2009,theyneverresidedtogether,andthelastaddressplaintiffhasfordefendantisan
apartmentthathevacatedin2011.Plaintiffhasspokenwithdefendantbytelephoneonoccasionandhehastoldherthat
hehasnofixedaddressandnoplaceofemployment.Hehasalsorefusedtomakehimselfavailabletobeservedwith
divorcepapers.Asdetailedinherattorney'saffirmation,theinvestigativefirmsthatplaintiffhiredtoassistinlocating
defendanthaveallbeenunsuccessfulintheirefforts,thepostofficehasnoforwardingaddressforhim,thereisnobilling
addresslinkedtohisprepaidcellphone,andtheDepartmentofMotorVehicleshasnorecordofhim.Inasmuchasplaintiff
isunabletofinddefendant,personaldeliveryofthesummonstohimisanimpossibility.
Similarly,plaintiffhasshownthatitwouldbeanexerciseinfutilitytoattemptthetwoalternativeservicemethodsprovided
forbyCPLR308.Both"substituteservice"and"nailandmail"servicerequireknowledgeofthedefendant's"actualplaceof
business,dwellingorusualplaceofabode"(CPLR308[2],[4]).Therecordestablishesthatplaintiffhasbeenunsuccessful
inobtainingeitherabusinessorhomeaddressfordefendant,eventhoughshehasdiligentlysoughtthatinformation.Asa
result,shehasmetherburdenofdemonstratingthatitwouldbeimpracticabletoattempttoservedefendantbyeitherof
thesemethods(seeFranklinvWinard,189AD2d717[1stDept1993]).
HavingdemonstratedasoundbasisforseekingalternativeservicepursuanttoCPLR308(5),plaintiffmustnowshowthat
themethodsheproposesisonethatthecourtcanendorseasbeingreasonablycalculatedtoapprisedefendantthatheis
beingsuedfordivorce.Thishurdleposesanumberofchallenges.First,thereareonlyahandfulofreporteddecisions,
mostlyfromfederaldistrictcourts,thathaveaddressedtheissueofserviceofprocessbeingaccomplishedthroughsocial
media,withtherebeinganalmostevensplitbetweenthosedecisionsapprovingitandthoserejectingit(compareFed.
TradeCommn.vPCCare247Inc.,2013WL841037[SDNY,Mar.72013,No.12Civ.7189(PAE)][allowingserviceof
processinpartbysocialmedia]WhosHere,Inc.vOrun,2014WL670817[EDVa.,Feb.20,2014,Civ.No.1:13cv00526
AJTTRJ][same]NoelB.vAnnaMariaA.,20142014NYMiscLEXIS4708[FamCt,RichmondCounty2014][same]with
FortunatovChaseBankUSA,N.A.,2012WL2086950[SDNY,June07,2012,No.11Civ.6608(JFK)][denyingservice
byFacebook]JoeHandPromotions,Inc.vShepard,2013WL4058745[EDMo,Aug.12,2013,No.4:12cv1728SNLJ]
[same]InreAdoptionofK.P.M.A.,341P3d38[Okla,2014][same]).Second,aswillbefurtherdiscussed,thecases
permittingsuchservicehavedonesoonlyonconditionthatthepaperscommencingthelawsuitbeservedonthe
defendantbyanothermethodaswell.Thus,inseekingpermissiontoeffectuateserviceofthedivorcesummonsbysimply
sendingittodefendantthroughaprivateFacebookmessage,plaintiffisaskingthecourt,alreadybeyondthesafeharborof
statutoryprescription,toventureintounchartedwaterswithouttheguidinglightofclearjudicialprecedent.
Considerationmustalsobegiventothefactthatthewayplaintiffproposestoprovidedefendantwithnoticeofthedivorce
representsaradicaldeparturefromthetraditionalnotionofwhatconstitutesserviceofprocess.Evendecisionsfromas
recentlyas2012and2013havereferredtotheuseofFacebookmessagingforthepurposeofcommencingalawsuitas
beinga"novelconcept"(PCCare247Inc.,2013WL841037[permittingitasasupplementalmethodofservice])and
"unorthodoxtosaytheleast"(Fortunato,2012WL2086950[rejectingitasameansofservice]).
Thataconceptisnewtothelawissomethingthatmayverywellrequireacourttoexerciseahighdegreeofscrutinyand

independentlegalanalysiswhenjudicialapprovalissought.Butaconceptshouldnotberejectedsimplybecauseitis
novelornontraditional.Thisisespeciallysowheretechnologyandthelawintersect.Inthisageoftechnological
enlightenment,whatisforthemomentunorthodoxandunusualstandsagoodchanceofsoonerorlaterbeingaccepted
andstandard,orevenoutdatedandpass.Andbecauselegislatureshaveoftenbeenslowtoreacttothesechanges,it
hasfallenoncourtstoinsurethatourlegalprocedureskeeppacewithcurrenttechnology(seeNewEnglandMerchants
Natl.BankvIranPowerGeneration&TransmissionCo.,495FSupp73,81[SDNY,1980]["Courtscannotbeblindto
changesandadvancesintechnology."]).AsnotedbytheUnitedStatesCourtofAppealsfortheNinthCircuitinRio
Properties,Inc.vRioInternationalInterlink,284F3d1007,1017(9thCir,2002),oneoftheearliestcasesauthorizing
serviceofprocessbyemail,the"broadconstitutionalprinciples"uponwhichjudiciallydevisedalternativeserviceisbased
"unshackles...courtsfromanachronisticmethodsofserviceandpermitsthementryintothetechnologicalrenaissance."
Inthefinalanalysis,constitutionalprinciples,notthelackofjudicialprecedentorthenoveltyofFacebookservice,willbe
ultimatelydeterminativehere.Thecentralquestioniswhetherthemethodbywhichplaintiffseekstoservedefendant
comportswiththefundamentalsofdueprocessbybeingreasonablycalculatedtoprovidedefendantwithnoticeofthe
divorce.Ormoresimplyposed:Ifthesummonsfordivorceissenttowhatplaintiffrepresentstobedefendant'sFacebook
account,isthereagoodchancehewillreceiveit?
Inorderforthequestiontobeansweredintheaffirmative,plaintiffmustaddressanumberofthiscourt'sconcerns.Thefirst
isthattheFacebookaccountthatplaintiffbelievesisdefendant'smightnotactuallybelongtohim.Asiswellknown,the
Facebookprofilesomebodyviewsonlinemayverywellbelongtosomeoneotherthanwhomtheprofilepurportsittobe.
Thishasledcourtstoobservethat"anyonecanmakeaFacebookprofileusingreal,fake,orincompleteinformation,and
thusthereisnowayfortheCourttoconfirmwhethertheFacebookpagebelongstothedefendanttobeserved"
(PCCare247,Inc.,2013WL841037,at*5[quotingFortunato,2012WL2086950,at*2]).Asaresult,thiscourtrequired
plaintifftosubmitasupplementalaffidavittoverifythattheFacebookaccountshereferencesisindeedthatofthe
defendant.Plaintiffsubmittedsuchanaffidavit,towhichsheannexedcopiesoftheexchangesthattookplacebetweenher
anddefendantwhenshecontactedhimthroughhisFacebookpage,andinwhichsheidentifieddefendantasthesubjectof
thephotographsthatappearonthatpage.Whileitistruethatplaintiff'sstatementsarenotabsoluteproofthattheaccount
belongstodefendantitbeingconceivablethatifplaintiffherselforsomeoneatherbehestcreateddefendant'spage,
shecouldfabricateexchangesandpostphotographsplaintiffhasneverthelesspersuadedthecourtthattheaccountin
questiondoesindeedbelongtodefendant.
ThesecondconcernisthatifdefendantisnotdiligentinloggingontohisFacebookaccount,herunstheriskofnotseeing
thesummonsuntilthetimetorespondhaspassed.Heretoo,plaintiff'saffidavithassuccessfullyaddressedtheissue.Her
exchangeswithdefendantviaFacebookshowthatheregularlylogsontohisaccount.Inaddition,becauseplaintiffhasa
mobilephonenumberfordefendant,bothsheandherattorneycanspeaktohimorleaveavoicemailmessage,orelse
sendhimatextmessagealertinghimthatadivorceactionhasbeencommencedandthatheshouldcheckhisaccount
(WhosHere,Inc.,2014WL670817,at*4["Courtshavetakenintoconsiderationwhetherdefendantalreadypossessed
eitherknowledgeofsuitorthathemaybethesubjecttoasuit"]).
Thethirdconcerniswhetherabackupmeansofserviceisrequiredunderthecircumstances.Although,aswasdiscussed,
othercourtdecisionshaveendorsedusingFacebookasameansofservice,theyhavedonesoonlywhereFacebookwas
butoneofthemethodsemployed,nottheonlymethod.AsthecourtstatedinPCCare247,Inc.,2013WL841037,at*5,"
[t]obesure,ifthe[plaintiff]wereproposingtoservedefendantsonlybymeansofFacebook,asopposedtousing
Facebookasasupplementalmeansofservice,asubstantialquestionwouldarisewhetherthatservicecomportswithdue
process."Inthatcase,andaswellasinWhosHere,Inc.,theotherfederalcourtdecisionauthorizingFacebookservice,the
courtstressedthatitwasallowingtheuseofasocialmediasiteonlyinconjunctionwithnoticebeingsenttothe
defendantsbyemail.InNoelB.,2014NYMiscLEXIS4708,at*4,theonlydecisionfromastatecourtpermittingservice
viaFacebook,thepetitionerwasrequiredtomailacopyofthechildsupportsummonsandpetitiontotherespondent's
"previouslyusedlastknownaddress."
Here,plaintiffdoesnothaveanemailaddressfordefendantandhasnowayoffindingone.Nordoesshehaveastreet
addressfordefendantthatcouldconstituteaviable"lastknownaddress"defendant'slastknownaddressdatesbackat

leastfouryearsandthepostofficeconfirmedthatdefendantnolongerresidesthereandhehasleftnoforwardingaddress.
Thus,plaintiffhasacompellingreasontomakeFacebookthesole,ratherthanthesupplemental,meansofservice,with
thecourtsatisfiedthatitisamethodreasonablycalculatedtogivedefendantnoticethatheisbeingsuedfordivorce.
BeforegrantingplaintiffleavetoservedefendantviaFacebook,amethodofalternativeservicejudiciallydevisedpursuant
toCPLR308(5),thereisoneremainingquestionthatshouldbeaddressed:WhyuseFacebookaseitherthesoleorthe
supplementalmeansofserviceinthefirstplacewhenthereisastatutorilyprescribedmethodofservicereadilyavailable?
Thatmethodisservicebypublication,somethingthatisspecificallyauthorizedunderCPLR315.Afterall,publicationisnot
onlyexpresslysanctionedbytheCPLR,butitisameansofserviceofprocessthathasbeenusedinNewYorkinoneform
oranothersincecolonialtimes.Eventoday,itisprobablythemethodofservicemostoftenpermittedindivorceactions
whenthedefendantcannotbeservedbyothermeans.
Theproblem,however,withpublicationserviceisthatitisalmostguaranteednottoprovideadefendantwithnoticeofthe
actionfordivorce,oranyotherlawsuitforthatmatter.(seeSnydervAlternateEnergyInc.,19Misc3d954[CivCtNY
County,2008]AdamLiptak,HowtoTellSomeoneShe'sBeingSued,WithoutReallyTellingHer,NYTimes,Nov.19,
2007,availableathttp://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/19/us/19bar.html).IndivorcecasesbroughtinNewYorkCounty,
plaintiffsareoftengrantedpermissiontopublishthesummonsinsuchnewspapersastheNewYorkLawJournalorthe
IrishEcho.Ifthatweretobedonehere,thechancesofdefendant,whoisneitheralawyernorIrish,everseeingthe
summonsinprint,eitherinthoseparticularnewspapersorinanyother,areslimtonone.Thedangersofallowing
somebodytobedivorcedandnotknowitaresimplytoogreattoallownoticetobegivenbypublication,aformofservice
that,whileneithernovelorunorthodox,isessentiallystatutorilyauthorizednonservice.Thisisespeciallysowhen,ashere,
thereisareadilyavailablemeansofservicethatstandsaverygoodchanceoflettingdefendantknowthatheisbeing
sued.
Moreover,thecourtwillnotrequirepublicationinanynewspaperevenasabackupmethodtoFacebook.Althoughamore
widelycirculatednewspaper,liketheNewYorkPostortheDailyNews,mightreachmorereaders,thecost,which
approaches$1,000forrunningthenoticeforaweek,issubstantial,andthechancesofitbeingbyseenbydefendant,
buriedinanobscuresectionofthepaperandprintedinsmalltype,arestillinfinitesimal.
Underthecircumstancepresentedhere,servicebyFacebook,albeitnovelandnontraditional,istheformofservicethat
mostcomportswiththeconstitutionalstandardsofdueprocess.Notonlyisitreasonablycalculatedtoprovidedefendant
withnoticethatheisbeingsuedfordivorce,buteveryindicationisthatitwillachievewhatshouldbethegoalofevery
methodofservice:actuallydeliveringthesummonstohim.
Inlightoftheforegoing,plaintiffisgrantedpermissiontoservedefendantwiththedivorcesummonsusingaprivate
messagethroughFacebook.Specifically,becauselitigantsareprohibitedfromservingotherlitigants,plaintiff'sattorney
shalllogintoplaintiff'sFacebookaccountandmessagethedefendantbyfirstidentifyinghimself,andthenincludingeither
awebaddressofthesummonsorattachinganimageofthesummons.Thistransmittalshallberepeatedbyplaintiff's
attorneytodefendantonceaweekforthreeconsecutiveweeksoruntilacknowledgedbythedefendant.Additionally,after
theinitialtransmittal,plaintiffandherattorneyaretocallandtextmessagedefendanttoinformhimthatthesummonsfor
divorcehasbeensenttohimviaFacebook.
Thisconstitutesthedecisionandorderofthecourt.
[1]Thelasttimethelegislatureamendedaprovisionofthelawdealingwithserviceofprocessonindividualswasin1994,backatthe
dawnoftheinternetageandbeforeemailwaswidelyutilized.
[2]The"many"includesthe157,000,000peopleintheUnitedStateswho,accordingtoFacebook's2014fourthquartershareholderreport,
checktheirFacebookaccountseachday.Itdoesnot,byandlarge,includethemembersoftheNewYorkStatejudiciary,whohavebeen
advisedthattheyshouldbewaryofusingsocialnetworksites(seeAdvisoryCommonJudEthicsOp08176[2009],AdvisoryCommon
JudEthicsOp1339[2013]seealsoRichardRaysman,JudicialandAttorneyMisuseofSocialMediaCanEndCareers,NYLJ,Mar.10,
2015,at5,col1).

SavetreesreadcourtopinionsonlineonGoogleScholar.