St. Francis Assisi v. Kuwait Finance House et al

Filing 25

ORDER by Judge Laurel Beeler granting 10 Motion for Alternative Service of Process. The plaintiff may serve the individual defendant Hajjaj al-Ajmi by Twitter. See the attached order.(lblc3S, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 9/30/2016)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 San Francisco Division United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 ST. FRANCIS ASSISI, 13 Plaintiff, 14 15 Case No. 3:16-cv-3240-LB v. 16 KUWAIT FINANCE HOUSE; KUVEYTTURK PARTICIPATION BANK INC., HAJJAJ AL AJMI; AND DOES 1 TO 200 17 ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO SERVE PROCESS BY ALTERNATIVE MEANS Defendants. INTRODUCTION 18 19 20 21 22 23 Re: ECF No. 10 The plaintiff, St. Francis Assisi (a non-profit corporation), sued the defendants, Kuwait Finance House, Kuveyt-Turk Participation Bank Inc., and Hajjaj al-Ajmi (an individual) for damages and equitable relief arising from the defendants’ financing of the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which resulted in the targeted murder of Assyrian Christians in Iraq and Syria. (See Compl., ECF No. 1.) St. Francis has not been successful in serving process on al-Ajmi. (See ECF No. 10.) Al-Ajmi 24 25 is a Kuwaiti national and efforts to locate him have been unsuccessful. (Id.) St. Francis now asks to serve al-Ajmi by alternative means under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(f)(3) via the social- 26 media platform, Twitter. (Id.) The court grants St. Francis’s request because service via Twitter is 27 reasonably calculated to give notice and is not prohibited by international agreement. 28 ORDER — No. 16-cv-02018-LB 1 2 STATEMENT 3 On June 13, 2016, St. Francis filed the complaint. (See Compl., ECF No. 1.) The summons too 4 5 6 was issued on June 13, 2016. (See Summons, ECF No. 6.) Service has not been effected on alAjmi. (See ECF No. 10.) St. Francis attempted to locate al-Ajmi through a skip trace; however, St. Francis was unable to determine al-Ajmi’s whereabouts. (Id.) Kuwait is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents; previous 7 attempts to serve defendant Kuwait Finance House through Kuwait’s Central Authority (Kuwait’s 8 specified means of international service) were unsuccessful, as Kuwait’s Central Authority refused 9 to accept the summons and complaint. (Id.) 10 Al-Ajmi has a large following on Twitter and has used the social-media platform to fundraise United States District Court Northern District of California 11 large sums of money for terrorist organizations by providing bank-account numbers to make 12 donations. (Id.) Al-Ajmi frequently travels from Kuwait to deliver money to Al-Nusrah Front 13 (another terrorist group) in Syria. U.S. Dep’t of Treasury, Treasury Designates Three Key 14 Supporters of Terrorists in Syria and Iraq (2014). On August 6, 2014, the U.S. Treasury 15 Department sanctioned al-Ajmi as a key supporter of terrorists in Syria by freezing his U.S. assets 16 and banning American entities from doing business with him. Id. ANALYSIS 17 18 Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(f) establishes three mechanisms for serving an individual in a foreign country: 1) by an internationally agreed means of service that is reasonably calculated to 19 20 21 22 give notice, such as those provided by the Hague Convention; 2) if there is no international means or no means specified then by means reasonably calculated to give notice; or 3) by other means not prohibited by international agreement, as the court orders. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(f). Courts have applied Rule 4(f) to allow the order of any means of service as long as it comports 23 with due process and: 1) it provides “notice reasonably calculated, under all circumstances to 24 apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford[s] them an opportunity to 25 present their objections”; and 2) it is not prohibited by international agreement. Rio Props., Inc v. 26 Rio Int’l Interlink, 284 F.3d 1007, 1014, 1016 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Mullane v. Cent. Hanover 27 Bank & Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306, 314 (1950)). 28 Courts have authorized service by social media in similar cases. For example, in WhosHere, ORDER — No. 16-cv-02018-LB 2 1 Inc. v. Gokhan Orun, the district court authorized service on a defendant residing in and having his 2 principal place of business in Turkey by email and the social-media platforms, Facebook and 3 LinkedIn. 2014 WL 670817 (E.D. Va. Feb. 20, 2014). Defendant did business under the trade 4 5 6 names “WhoNear” and “whonearme” in violation of the plaintiff’s trademarked name, “WhosHere.” Id. at 1. Plaintiff Orun attempted to serve process through Turkey’s Ministry of Justice in accordance with Rule 4(f)(1) and the Hague Convention; however, the summons and complaint were returned because the defendant could not be located with the address on record. Id. 7 8 9 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 at 1-2. The court granted service by email, Facebook, and LinkedIn because notice through these accounts was reasonably calculated to notify the defendant of the pendency of the action and was not prohibited by international agreement. Id. at 3-4. The three accounts were under defendant Orun’s name and contained information about his “WhoNear” business. Id. at 4. In Federal Trade Commission v. PCCare Inc., the court also authorized service by email and 12 Facebook to defendants located in India. 2013 WL 841037 (S.D.N.Y. March 7, 2013). According 13 to the FTC, the five defendants employed a scheme tricking American consumers into spending 14 money to fix alleged problems with their computers. Id. at 1. The FTC attempted to serve the 15 defendants through the Indian Central Authority in accordance with Rule 4(f)(1) and the Hague 16 17 18 Convention. Id. The Indian Central Authority did not serve the defendants and did not respond to the FTC’s status inquiries. Id. The court granted service by email and Facebook because these channels were reasonably calculated to notify the defendants and were not prohibited by international agreement. Id. at 3-4. The email addresses and Facebook accounts were registered 19 20 under the defendants’ names and used frequently for communication. 4. As in WhosHere and PCCare, service by the social-media platform, Twitter, is reasonably 21 calculated to give notice to and is the “method of service most likely to reach” al-Ajmi. See Rio 22 Properties, 284 F.3d at 1017. Al-Ajmi has an active Twitter account and continues to use it to 23 communicate with his audience. Service by Twitter is not prohibited by international agreement 24 with Kuwait. 25 26 27 28 ORDER — No. 16-cv-02018-LB 3 CONCLUSION 1 2 3 The court grants St. Francis’s motion to serve of process by Twitter. St. Francis may use Twitter to serve process on al-Ajmi. 4 IT IS SO ORDERED. 5 Dated: September 30, 2016 ______________________________________ LAUREL BEELER United States Magistrate Judge 6 7 8 9 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 ORDER — No. 16-cv-02018-LB 4

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