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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Can you Serve Summons & Complaint by Email?

The answer to that question depends upon who you ask.  Those that have been following this blog for the last few years know I have explored this and other challenging questions and concerns that are impacting the private process serving industry. 

Service of legal documents by electronic means has been evolving for more than a decade.  So it is no surprise to me that hardly a month goes by when there is another example of how technology is changing the way law is practiced and how the Service of Process is performed.  

Recently, I was made aware of another example of how things are changing that affect the process serving industry.  The example was a blog post by a company I have been following for some time.  I have considered them worthy of watching because I thought it was likely that their registered email product could be used to displace or disrupt traditional manners of service of process in use today.  That company is RPost.  

Before I forget, upon passing the baton a few years ago to Bob Musser and Eric Vennes (the last two NAPPS Technology committee chairs) I made sure that they knew that I felt strongly that they should be watching RPost.    Whether or not they took my advice, I do not know.

OK, back to RPost, they published a story on their blog recently that posed the question I asked above.  Can you Serve Court Papers by Email.   The quick answer is it depends upon a number of factors including applicable laws, statutes and individual judge rulings that hear requests for alternative forms of service.  Interestingly story cites a case pending before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of the Texas where RPost was the plaintiff.  The judge in that case Ordered service of process by email and the plaintiff attorneys used RPost's own registered email product to effectuate service on a foreign defendant.  IN my opinion one of the more important aspects of this story is that RPost is now touting its product as a being reliable, secure and court admissible proof of delivery for the Service of court documents.   

It is also be worth noting that RPost recently participated in a roundtable discussion hosted by the Federal Trade Commission.  The roundtable explored how changing technologies affects the ways debt collectors communicate with consumers and how emails are being used by collection agencies in the collection process.  

Now imagine if the debt collector is allowed under the FDCPA regulations to communicate with the debtors using regular email or RPost's product.  If that happens why couldn't a debt collector send a Summons to the debtor using a reliable and secure electronic channel?  The collector might say in the email I can send the summons to you by email or i can send a process server or Sheriff to serve you... You pick, but keep in mind if I send a process server I might include the cost of service in the judgment or settlement amount.  Now that might put a dent in the process serving industries pocket.


Of course I am speculating as to what could happen, but I submit my speculation is not too far-fetched. My blog cites more than a dozen examples in recent years where service by electronic means is becoming more and more common. 

If you are a process server that plans on remaining relevant over the next few years you should be asking yourself what are you doing and/or what is your association doing to address these challenges?  If you opt to not take these and the other examples of how the industry is changing seriously you have no one to blame but yourself.