Service with a smile

By Legal Eagle

When you commence a legal action against someone, it follows that you have to bring that legal action to that person’s attention. The law says that you have to serve the documents on the person i.e. give the documents to them personally so that you know that they know about it.

As I worked in banking litigation, I became an expert in effecting service on people who didn’t want to be served. One guy had avoided service for ages. I can’t think of anything more miserable than living your life constantly hiding from process servers. I’d vastly rather face up to the legal action and its consequences than live in constant apprehension. On another occasion, the only contact we had for someone was a mobile phone number, so I began to text the writ. Eventually we gave up – this was in the days of old-style mobile phones – and we weren’t sure if it was working. We ended up making an application for substituted service to serve the defendant’s sister instead.

When you can’t serve the person in question, you can attempt other ways of serving the person (perhaps by post, or by leaving it with a relative, or something of the like). It is called substituted service and you have to obtain a court order to be able to serve the document in another way. Via the Herald Sun, I saw the following story this morning about Facebook service of proceedings against an American rapper:

US rapper Flo Rida has made legal history after being served with a legal damages claim that could top $100,000 – via Facebook.

The highly unorthodox means of serving the claim came after he failed at the last minute to show up at the Fat as Butter music festival in Newcastle in October, despite receiving a $55,000 fee.

Flo Rida was to have been one of its headline acts.

The NSW District Court last month imposed an interim order to freeze any assets that Flo Rida owned in Australia, up to the value of $80,000.

The rapper is yet to respond to the claims in any form.

As a result, festival promoters Mothership Music obtained permission from the District Court for a  ”substituted service” order.

This means Mothership was yesterday able to bypass the normal requirement to serve the lawsuit in person, and instead serve it via Facebook.

Mothership is now believed to be seeking additional compensation for damage to the festival’s reputation and other claims, which could take the total claim well over $100,000.

The judge had been provided with evidence by Mothership’s lawyers, Neville & Hourn Legal, that such a claim would be brought to the rapper’s attention via Facebook, because he was a frequent social media user.

Then I got thinking about service via Twitter. I guess you could do it, but you’d have to do it line by line, in increments (rather like my attempt to serve the woman by text message). And it would be backwards. Or you could serve someone via a blog comment, but there might be difficulties proving service if there was moderation, or if the spam filter ate the comment (which happens from time to time here).

Interesting to see how social media has changed the face of service, in any case.


  1. Ripples
    Posted May 2, 2012 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    My firm has 3 facebook sock puppets for the purpose of serving documents and locating people for service.

    Family law matters seem to be the most common area we do social media service with. I wonder if you could do a twitter service by referring them to a web announcement that contained the notice. I have yet to try this one but am thinking of it as an option where you text a weblink to an announcement similar to the newspaper announcement. I am pretty sure I can convince a judge it would work where I could show that the defendant/respondent is technically savvy.

  2. Posted May 2, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    My firm has 3 facebook sock puppets for the purpose of serving documents and locating people for service.

    Clearly I picked the wrong area of law. IP is really dull…

    *Falling over now*

  3. Posted May 2, 2012 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    If this becomes widespread or well known enough, it seems like something that could create a new vector for phishing scams.

  4. kvd
    Posted May 2, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    The other interesting one is Pirate Bay who has apparently been served via Facebook and Twitter. I’ve been following this case somewhat, mainly because of SL’s earlier posts on copyright, and the apparent desire of the UK High Court to seek any means possible to stop this service in the UK. Don’t quite understand it all yet.

  5. Posted May 2, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    I have an actual “service with a smile” story! (although it is only old school service and not social media service)

    As an articled clerk, I had to serve the director of a Co against whom my client was seeking an urgent injunction application. We got the application filed shortly before 4pm on a Friday and it would be heard later that evening. I turned up to the Company’s offices shortly before they shut and reception refused to tell me where the director was. In most cases, I would have left the documents with reception but they refused to accept them and it was important that we brought the application to the Company’s attention. As I was despondently leaving, I overheard someone call out that they would see the others downstairs in the bar. I went to the nearest bar and walked around asking every person if they were Mr Company Director. The director, happily, was a bit of a sleaze bucket and leeringly said “Yes, I am he, and what can I do for you, young lady?” to me. And with a smile, I said, “I represent My Client and serve you with an application for an injunction. The application is to be heard this evening. Thank you.”

    I had to hang around town in case I needed to give evidence of service, which thankfully I did not have to do, as the director with lawyers showed up for the application hearing, poor sod. (I don’t think the injunction application was entirely unexpected!)

  6. Posted May 2, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Oanh wins the internetz for today. It’s almost worth working in litigation for stories like that…

  7. Posted May 2, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Should that have been, “service with a SMILEY”?!

  8. Posted May 3, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    Hmmm…… having been on the business end of spurious servings & the like, though never been served myself, I’m inclined to be a tad more ambivalent about getting vicarious thrills of stories of people being served.

    I’d be remarkably difficult to serve, having seen how corporate/legal power & dishonesty was used to grind down some previous bosses, I’m very wary of it & I won’t be taken easily.

    I’ve seen how easily servers give up, and how easily the corporate/legal cartel give up, if an individual is difficult to locate.

    They’d have to mean it to serve me.

    But this has triggered tomorrow’s blog post for me. My favourite “serving notice” story!

  9. Ripples
    Posted May 4, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    You may have guessed my geekishness so there will be no real surprise my original sock puppet was called “Justin Lex” alas being such a law geek I couldn’t help myself.

    We have not truly examined the important aspect of this discussion yet. What will the service with a smile emoticon will look like :p

  10. Morsie
    Posted May 8, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    I remember once trying to serve a guarantor in amortgage default matter.The guarantor although charming was pretty hard core.Our process server tried but apparently did not succeed although finding our guarantor.The process server was terrified and vanished apart from a garbled phone call.We eventually served his lawyers.

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