|Lawyers can serve legal documents via e-mail, a federal appeals court decided in a groundbreaking ruling. |
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a Las Vegas hotel-casino could e-mail legal a lawsuit to an offshore gambling website with no physical address.
The decision gives lawyers across the West a new way to bring defendants with no physical address into court.
'When faced with an international e-business playing hide-and-seek with the federal court, e-mail may be the only means of effecting service of process,' the court said. 'We acknowledge that we tread upon untrodden ground.'
The case began in 1998, when the Rio found an ad for Rio Interlink's Web site, www.riosports.com, in the Nevada edition of the Daily Racing Form. Rio Interlink also ran radio ads in the Las Vegas area promoting its offshore betting service.
After the hotel complained, Rio Interlink shut down the site and replaced it with www.betrio.com. At that point, attorneys for the Rio hotel sued the Costa Rican company for trademark infringement.
According to the opinion, Rio International's land-based Miami address actually belonged to another company, which wasn't authorized to accept service for Rio International. After a search of corporate listings in Costa Rica failed to locate a physical address for the company, attorneys for the Rio hotel asked U.S. District Judge Philip M. Pro to allow them to serve Rio International via e-mail.
U.S. District Judge Philip M. Pro had allowed the Las Vegas business to use e-mail to serve legal documents because no physical address could be found. The appeals court upheld that decision, saying it was a reasonable way to inform the Web site operators of legal action and give them the opportunity to respond.
Serving legal documents via e-mail could become more common in a world linked by the Internet where commerce and commercial disputes span international borders, said Ann McGinley, a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
'This is an important decision, which, if it is followed by other courts outside the 9th Circuit, will make it easier for lawyers to find elusive defendants,' McGinley told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. 'I think we are moving in the direction of service by e-mail.'