Brief Fact Summary.
Under a provision of New York’s civil procedure law, applicable in divorce proceedings, a plaintiff who was unable to effect personal service on a defendant, could request permission from the court to use one of the personal service methods alternative to in-hand delivery, which included service, on a plaintiff’s ex parte application, in a manner determined by Plaintiff. In this divorce case, Plaintiff filed an ex parte application seeking leave to use service of notice via private message on Facebook.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
In deciding whether service of process by a nonstandard method (private Facebook message in this case), the central question is whether Plaintiff’s method of personal service comports with the fundamentals of due process by being reasonably calculated to provide Defendant with notice of the divorce.
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Under New York law, a plaintiff in a divorce proceeding who was faced with the prospect of being unable to effect personal service could request permission to use one of the alternative methods to in-hand delivery allowed under the state’s law of civil procedure. One provision of the state civil procedure law provided for an alternative means of service whereby, on a plaintiff’s ex parte application, the plaintiff directs the manner in which service will be made. In this divorce case, Plaintiff wife filed an ex parte application seeking leave to utilize an alternative method — service via private message on Facebook — for service of process upon her husband in a divorce proceeding. Plaintiff contended that she had no other means of contacting her husband; the parties had never resided together, the husband had vacated his last known address, he told Plaintiff that he had no fixed address and no place of employment, and he refused to make himself available to be served with divorce papers.
Was service of notice via Facebook an appropriate and constitutionally permissible form of alternative service of process in a divorce proceeding?
Yes. Under the circumstances presented, service via Facebook (by private message to the husband’s account) was the form of notice that most comported with due process.
The key question was whether Plaintiff’s method of service comported with due process by being reasonably calculated to provide Defendant with notice of the divorce. In this case, every indication was that the Facebook private message method of service would best accomplish actual delivery of the summons to Defendant, given Plaintiff’s contentions that she had no other means of contacting her husband; that the parties had never resided together; and that the husband had vacated his last known address, told Plaintiff that he had no fixed address and no place of employment, and refused to make himself available to be served with divorce papers.