An Australian lawyer has won the right to serve a default judgment by posting the terms of the judgment on the defendants’ Facebook “Wall”. In a December 2008 ruling that appears to be the first of its kind anywhere in the world, Master Harper of the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory held that the lawyer could use the social networking site to serve court notices.
The court had previously allowed the lawyer to attempt service by email and text messaging the couple’s mobile phones, but these attempts were unsuccessful. The defendants, Carmel Rita Corbo and Gordon Kingsley Maxwell Poyser failed to keep up the repayments on $150,000 they borrowed from MKM in 2007 to refinance the mortgage on their Kambah townhouse The Facebook profiles showed the co-defendants’ dates of birth, email addresses and ‘friend’ lists and declared the co-defendants to be friends of one another. This information was enough to satisfy the Master that Facebook would be effective in bringing knowledge of the legal proceedings to the attention of the defendants. (In fact, it seems that the news of the default judgment got out before the lawyer, Mr. McCormack, had the opportunity to serve the papers. The couple’s profiles disappeared from the social networking site).
Facebook, for its part, was quite happy with the result, stating: “We’re pleased to see the Australian court validate Facebook as a reliable, secure and private medium for communication. The ruling is also an interesting indication of the increasing role that Facebook is playing in people’s lives.”
Interestingly, in an earlier Australian decision, Citigroup Pty Ltd. v. Weerakoon, reported in April of 2008, the Queensland District Court refused a request to allow substituted service of court documents by email to a defendant’s Facebook page. In so deciding, Judge Ryrie stated: “I am not so satisfied in light of looking at the uncertainty of Facebook pages, the facts that anyone can create an identity that could mimic the person’s identity and indeed be the defendant, even though practically speaking it may well indeed be the person who is the defendant.”