Case Bulletin – Allegheny County Judge Colville Approves of Alternative Service via Facebook
The Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure regarding service of original process provide:
(a) Original process may be served
(1) by handing a copy to the defendant; or
(2) by handing a copy
(i) at the residence of the defendant to an adult member of the family with whom he resides; but if no adult member of the family is found, then to an adult person in charge of such residence; or
(ii) at the residence of the defendant to the clerk or manager of the hotel, inn, apartment house, boarding house or other place of lodging at which he resides; or
(iii) at any office or usual place of business of the defendant to his agent or to the person for the time being in charge thereof.
(b) In lieu of service under this rule, the defendant or his authorized agent may accept service or original process by filing a separate document[.]
Pa.R.C.P. 402. Alternatively, if service cannot be made under this Rule, a party “may move the court for a special order directing the method of service.” Pa.R.C.P. 430. In order to obtain an order permitting such alternative service, the party must show a good faith effort to locate the defendant, such as: (1) inquiries of postal authorities, (2) inquiries of relatives, neighbors, friends, and employers of the defendant, (3) examinations of local telephone directories, courthouse records, voter registration records, local tax records, and motor vehicle records, and (4) a reasonable internet search. See Pa.R.C.P. 430, official note.
If such alternative service is permitted, it has historically been in the form of certified mail or publication in a legal journal or newspaper. However, these forms of service – particularly publication – can be expensive and time consuming. Furthermore, publications are unlikely to be seen or read by the party being served.
Alternatively, if it can be shown that a party is active on Facebook, service via Facebook is simple, free, and more likely to result in the party actually receiving service. While there is not a significant amount of case law on this topic, authorities do exist in both New York and Minnesota permitting such service. See e.g. Baidoo v. Blood-Dzraku, 5 N.Y.S.3d 709, 715 (N.Y. Sup. 2015) (allowing for service of divorce summons via social media for the same reasons); Mpafe v. Mpafe, Hennepin County, MN No. 27-FA-11-3453 (4th Minn., May 10, 2011) (same). Specifically, in Baidoo, the court explained:
service by Facebook, albeit novel and non-traditional, is the form of service that most comports with the constitutional standards of due process. Not only is it reasonably calculated to provide defendant with notice that he is being sued . . . but every indication is that it will achieve what should be the goal of every method of service: actually delivering the summons to him.
5 N.Y.S.3d at 715. The court went on to provide a process by which such service could be enforced: the serving party’s attorney was instructed to log in to his client’s Facebook page and send a private message containing the summons. Id.
Recently, Zimmer Kunz raised these arguments before Judge Robert J. Colville, and was granted alternative service via Facebook, which is the first occasion that we are aware of to permit such service in Pennsylvania. See Kummer v. Sciulli, AR-17-004789 (C.P. Allegheny Mar. 6, 2018) (Colville, J.). Thus, for future parties in Pennsylvania, this opinion can be cited in support of alternative service via social media and/or e-mail, based upon the fact that the same is (1) cost effective, (2) simple, and (3) more likely to result in the party actually receiving service.