Nowadays, courts around the country are allowing for process services to utilize social media accounts, such as Facebook. However, using social media doesn’t always have its benefits. A Brooklyn judge denied a woman’s request to serve her husband with a divorce summons via Facebook, finding she failed to prove he is an active user.
According to court papers, Manal Qaza and her husband Abdulla Saeed Hazza Alshalabi were married in June 2011 in New York, but Qaza said her husband left about two months later without leaving contact information.
Qaza gave birth to a child about five months after they were married but said Alshalabi is not the father. She said Alshalabi has been deported.
On Oct. 17, Qaza filed for an order for service of summons by publication to Facebook, arguing her husband had abandoned the marital residence and that she made numerous attempts to personally serve him, including by contacting family members and searching public records.
Qaza said she believes her husband is in Saudi Arabia because two Facebook profiles he uses list the country as his current location. She also said she has been in contact with him previously through the social media platform. Because Saudi Arabia is not a Hague Convention signatory, she said, she cannot ensure service there. Additionally, she argued, publishing the summons in a local newspaper could cost $3,000, which she cannot afford.
In denying Qaza’s request this week, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Sunshine noted that New York courts have long held that due process is not a “mechanical formula or rigid set of rules,” citing Dobkin v. Chapman, 21 NYS2d 490 (1968).
In 2013, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, held in Safadjou v. Mohammadi , 105 AD3d 1423, that process service is allowed via email. In that case, Sunshine said, the record showed the parties had been communicating by email, and therefore it would be “reasonably calculated” to notify the defendant of a pending lawsuit.
However, in Qaza v. Alshalabi, 54308/16, Sunshine said the plaintiff failed to authenticate that her husband’s Facebook profile was actually his and, assuming it was, that he actually uses the profile to communicate. He noted the profile hasn’t been updated since April 2014. The judge also noted that Qaza did not submit proof that the parties used Facebook to contact each other.
Given the circumstances of the case, Sunshine said, allowing Qaza to serve her husband through Facebook would be akin to permitting service by “nail and mail to a building that no longer exists.”
“The act for divorce has a multitude of ancillary effects on the rights and liabilities of parties,” he said. “The court must be scrupulous in allowing service by a methodology most likely to give notice not only are one’s economic responsibilities and rights to pay and receive maintenance and child support but rights to property, inheritance and most importantly the constitutional right to custody and visitation.”
Theodore Alatsas, a Brooklyn solo attorney, represented Qaza. He said Thursday that he was disappointed by the ruling but had not yet had a chance to discuss with his client whether or not she wanted to appeal. “Right now, I think we’re a little frustrated, certainly,” he said.
Stephen Kramarsky, a partner at Dewey Pegno & Kramarsky and a Law Journal columnist who is not involved with the case, said that while it appeared Sunshine was not comfortable that Facebook would give the defendant notice, the broader trend among courts is to allow service by social media. “In this case, there just wasn’t enough,” Kramarsky said.
In September 2014, Staten Island Family Court Support Magistrate Gregory Gliedman allowed a man who was seeking to modify his child support to serve his son’s mother via her Facebook account after unsuccessful attempts to track her down (NYLJ, Sept. 17, 2014).
Gliedman said that the plaintiff in the case, identified in media reports as Noel Biscocho, made diligent efforts to locate his son’s mother to no avail and that, because the mother had “liked” photos on Biscocho’s wife’s Facebook profile as recently as July 2014, the mother had an active social media account.
Gliedman also said in his decision in In the Matter of a Support Proceeding Noel B. v. Anna Maria A., F-00787-13/14B, that he knew of no other published decision by a New York court at that time granting service by Facebook.
But Gliedman ordered Biscocho to serve notice to the defendant’s last known address.
In March 2015, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper allowed the plaintiff in Baidoo v. Blood-Dzraku, 310947/14, to serve a notice of divorce solely through her husband’s Facebook profile (NYLJ, April 7, 2015).
Cooper noted that while the state legislature has yet to make email a statutorily authorized method of process service, New York’s Civil Practice Law and Rules §308 allows courts to grant alternative forms of service.
“In this age of technological enlightenment, what is for the moment unorthodox and unusual stands a good chance of sooner or later being accepted and standard, or even outdated,” Cooper said.
Do you think the use of social media platforms is a sufficient means to serve, or does it make service of process more difficult?