NJ Court Permits Service of Process Through Facebook

In K.A. v. J.L., 450 N.J. Super. 247 (Ch. Div. 2016), the New Jersey Superior Court held that service of process through the social media platform Facebook was permissible after service through certified mail was ineffective.  The adoptive parents instituted this action to enjoin the biological father from holding himself out as the father of their son, Z.A., and to compel the biological father to remove information pertaining to Z.A. that he has allegedly published online. Id. at 250.

The issue before the Court was whether the personal jurisdiction could be asserted over the biological parent by virtue of the service of the order to show cause and complaint by Facebook. The addresses the adoptive parents had for the biological father were out of state.  The court noted that “a court cannot assert jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant unless such defendant has engaged in contact with the forum state.” Id. at 251 (citing Waste Mgmt. v. Admiral Ins. Co., 138 N.J. 106 (1994)).

Here, the holder of the social media accounts knowingly reached out to various members of the adoptive parents’ family, who were New Jersey residents. Id. As it was clear that any resultant harm would be concentrated in New Jersey, the court found that such conduct conferred personal jurisdiction on the New Jersey courts over the actor. Id. Although the biological father’s only contacts with New Jersey were through activities on social medical outlets, the court found the activities sufficient to justify specific jurisdiction over related causes of action. Id. at 252.  Because the activities were the subject of the adoptive parents’ complaint, the court found that it could properly exercise jurisdiction over the account holder for the purpose of addressing the adoptive parents’ claims. Id.

However, the court noted that one additional requirement that must be satisfied to obtain personal jurisdiction – service of process must be effectuated on the biological father. Id. Pursuant to New Jersey Court Rule 4:4-4(a), a plaintiff must serve the complaint and summons on the defendant personally.  If, however, 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 R. 4:4-3(b).

The court noted that service of process via Facebook can, in certain circumstances, satisfy the test set forth in O’Connor v. Altus, 67 N.J. 106, 126 (1975) (“constitutional requirements of service of process” are “notice reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections”).

Here, the court was satisfied that the only method of service available to the adoptive parents was Facebook. Id. at 253.  The court noted that Facebook is reasonably calculated to apprise the account holder of the pendency of the action and afford him the opportunity to defend himself against the claims. Id. Moreover, the only communication received from the biological father had been through the Facebook account.

In sum, the court was satisfied that service by Facebook in this case was permissible. After diligent efforts, personal service could not be accomplished and service by publication would not be efficient given the nature of the relief sought, an injunction. Further, the court was satisfied that the Facebook account was the biological father’s account and he acknowledged receipt of the summons and complaint.  Thus, service was deemed successful.