SERVING PROCESS IN SPACE
The other day I was watching a football game with some friends when we saw a commercial featuring an astronaut in space. One of my buddies asked me if someone could be served with a lawsuit in space. This prompted an interesting discussion. I normally would not create a blog post about such a silly discussion but I thought it would be an interesting post to understand jurisdiction and substitute service. Assuming I was asked to serve a summons and complaint on an astronaut who is currently working in the International Space Station, and assuming that I had a multi-billionaire client who was willing to fly me into space to serve the astronaut personally, I could deliver the papers to the astronaut in space, but I do not believe it would be good service.
First of all, in Florida, a special or certified process server can only serve process in the county where they are licensed; see FL Stat. 48.121(3). Since I can not serve a defendant in a neighboring county where I am not licensed, I doubt I can legally serve a summons and complaint on a defendant in space. While I can give the papers to a certified or special process server in that neighboring county to serve a defendant, as far as I know, there are no process servers certified to serve the process in space.
However, if the astronaut’s residence is in the county where I am licensed, and if he or she has a co-resident who is 15 years of age or older, I can substitute serve the astronaut by leaving the papers with that co-resident so long as I serve them at the residence. I cannot serve a co-resident at a different location other than at the dwelling; see 48.031(1)(a). However, if I find his or her spouse at another location such as a supermarket for example, I can serve the spouse, so long as I am licensed in that county, they are in the county of the cause of action, if the cause of action is not an adversarial proceeding between the spouse and the person to be served, if the spouse requests such service or the spouse is also a party to the action, and if the spouse and person to be served reside together in the same dwelling, regardless of whether such dwelling is located in the county where substituted service is made; see FL Stat. 48.031(2)(a).
This exercise in applying the rules of process service to the absurd, makes me think about the legal challenges we will face as space exploration becomes more mainstream. The notion of serving a lawsuit on an astronaut in space is an intriguing and unprecedented legal challenge, mirroring the evolving landscape of human activities beyond Earth. As we navigate the complexities of extraterrestrial jurisdiction and legal frameworks, it becomes clear that the expansion of human presence into space necessitates innovative approaches to address legal matters. While the idea of serving legal documents in space may seem far-fetched, it underscores the importance of establishing clear guidelines and procedures for resolving disputes in the new frontier. As space exploration progresses, will the legal systems adapt at the same speed to ensure fairness, justice, and accountability for those venturing beyond our planet? Only time will tell. The journey into the cosmos brings not only scientific and technological challenges but also prompts us to redefine the parameters of law and governance for a truly interstellar society.