Facebook isn’t Just for Friend Requests: Texas Legislation Would Allow Service of Lawsuits through Social Media

Andrew Pearce

March 6, 2013

When a lawsuit is filed, the first thing a plaintiff must do is properly serve the defendant with a copy of the lawsuit. Once service is accomplished, the defendant is on the clock to file an answer and the lawsuit is effectively underway.

The traditional methods of service have been by personal delivery, typically through a process server, or by mail. In instances where the defendant is difficult or impossible to locate, courts have been authorized to approve other methods of service, such as through a notice published in the classified section of a newspaper.

Now, as further proof of the digital age we live in, proposed legislation in Texas would expand a court’s ability to authorize service through sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

On February 27, 2013, Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, introduced HB 1989, which would allow an “electronic communication sent to defendant through a social media website” to accomplish service in a Texas lawsuit.

The bill follows in the footsteps of a British case in which UK High Court Judge Nigel Teare approved the unusual request after the lawyers were unable to reach the defendant at a physical address or through email. Instead, the lawyers had notice that the defendant accepted two friend requests on Facebook. As a result, Judge Teare approved the use of Facebook to serve legal documents.

The bill raises obvious questions regarding the reliability of such service, given concerns over false identities and fake accounts. Even so, and regardless of whether the bill passes, the impact of social media and the efforts of Texas legislators and courts to adjust accordingly are undeniable.