Today’s Blog Brought To You By The Letters “E” And “F”

federal court recently rejected a party’s attempt to serve a summons on a defendant in a civil lawsuit via Facebook. The plaintiff was unable to find a current address or location for the defendant, but did manage to track down a Facebook page that the defendant apparently operated. Relying on several federal cases which seemed to permit service by Facebook, the plaintiff asked the Missouri based court to allow him to serve the papers on that Facebook page.

The Court refused the request. And the big difference seemed to be between the letter “e” and the letter “f.”  In case you think this is a blog about Sesame Street, let me explain. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(f) addresses the topic of service on defendants in a foreign country. That rule allows for service by “other means not prohibited by international agreement, as the court orders.” And in fact, several federal courts have applied that rule in allowing service via social media. 

But in this case, the defendant was domestic. And that scenario is covered by Rule 4(e). Rule 4(e) only allows a plaintiff to serve the defendant (or his agent) personally or at his residence. It also permits service pursuant to the law of the state where the court is located. In this case, Missouri did not permit electronic service. So unless the defendant pulls up stakes and moves to a foreign country, the plaintiff here is out of luck.

It seems a little odd that the ability to serve a defendant electronically depends on the locale of the defendant. May be time for the Federal Rules to be updated.  Remember, “e” is for “electronic.”