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Can You Serve Someone With a Lawsuit via Twitter?

It's a fundamental principle of our legal system -- if you're going to sue someone, you have to put them on notice that they're being sued. Defendants need to be given a chance to respond to accusations against them. But this requirement begs the question: What constitutes notice?

Do you need to hand a copy of the lawsuit to them in person? Can you mail it? Or can you just slide into someone's DMs and drop a summons off?

Delivering a Lawsuit

A potential plaintiff could run into all sorts of problems with service of process. You could have trouble finding out where they live. They could just say the summons was lost in the mail. Or the Secretary of State's campaign aides and Secret Service detail could refuse to accept the summons. So some jurisdictions have come up with alternate means of notice in civil lawsuits.

Some states allow you to leave the summons and complaint with any person at the defendant's home as long as they're old enough to understand the responsibility of accepting service. Others permit service by affixing documents to the entrance of the defendant's home or place of business. In extreme cases, a court may allow publication of a notice in a newspaper, but it must be in at least one newspaper that gets delivered where the defendant is likely to be found and usually must be published on more than one occasion, like once a week for three weeks.

DM'ing a Lawsuit

And if all that does work, can you just @ the defendant? Maybe. As the ABA Journal reported, a San Francisco judge recently approved service of process via Twitter in a lawsuit against a Kuwaiti national accused of sending funds to ISIS. Because the plaintiffs couldn't locate and serve Hajjaj al-Ajmi in person, the judge OK'd the tweeted service based on the defendant's Twitter usage. "Al-Ajmi has a large following on Twitter," U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler wrote, "and has used the social-media platform to fundraise large sums of money for terrorist organizations by providing bank-account numbers to make donations."

Beeler noted Al-Ajmi's continued use of his account, as well as Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(f), which has allowed service via Facebook, LinkedIn, and email when applied to individuals in foreign countries. Here's hoping he's got his alerts turned on and hasn't muted the haters.

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