Serving Family Documents via Facebook?
An otherwise-unremarkable Ontario family law decision called Filion v. Ives has an interesting feature: The court allowed one of the parties to use Facebook to serve court documents on the other.
In that case, the husband had used the universally-known social media platform to serve court documents on the wife as part of their acrimonious divorce proceedings. He chose this method because she had proven very difficult to locate in the past, in connection with numerous motions and settlement conferences over the years. She was now claiming that she was out of funds to hire a lawyer and had failed to show up at a scheduled hearing and costs were ordered against her.
On a motion to get clarification on the $28,000 that she had been ordered to pay the husband, who happened to be a corporate/commercial, real estate, and estates lawyer, served the documents on the wife by Facebook message and also by e-mail to give her notice of an upcoming hearing. The court described the circumstances that gave rise to this necessity as follows:
Service of the motion documents was effected on the [wife] on December 17, 2014 by Facebook message and by email. This is irregular. [The husband’s lawyer] explained that the [wife] would not cooperate to reveal her location and employers and family members could not or would not give her location. A process server had tried to serve the [wife] at the last address that the court had on file for her, but was unable to. A neighbour said that she had not been seen in six to seven months. She was thought to be in Sturgeon Falls or North Bay. However, the process server knew someone who the [wife] had responded to the Facebook messages of, indicating that she lived in Toronto, but not saying exactly where. [The husband’s lawyer’s] office had used the same Facebook address to message the [wife]. Also, there had been no response to the email to say that it had not gone through. [The husband’s lawyer] expressed confidence that service had been effected in this way.
The court noted that in limited circumstances, the Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure do allow for alternatives to service in circumstances where more traditional methods were ineffective/impractical. Here, the court was satisfied that the husband’s motion documents had come to the wife’s attention – or that they would have come to her attention had she not deliberately and actively evaded service. To cover off the legal bases, the court made an order specifically endorsing the service of the husband’s documents in this way.
Although cases like this are still relatively novel, they suggest that Ontario courts might become increasingly comfortable with allowing this type of technology-based work-around in limited instances. Incidentally, another civil Small Claims Court case in which this approach was approved of is Eastview Properties Inc. v Wayne Mohamed.
For the full text of these decisions, see:
Filion v. Ives, 2015 ONSC 270