Court OKs legal notices sent via e-mail

A federal appeals court gives the green light to legal documents served through e-mail, at least in cases of parties without a physical address.

Acknowledging its findings "tread on untrodden ground," a federal appeals court gave the green light to sending legal documents via e-mail, at least in cases of parties without a physical address.

A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that attorneys representing a Las Vegas hotel were allowed to e-mail documents to an offshore casino because they could not otherwise serve the company.

Rio Properties is suing Rio International Interlink, claiming trademark infringement. In an early phase of the case, a judge ruled in Rio Properties' favor, saying Rio International had not complied with requests for information. The Costa Rican casino appealed the ruling, saying it had been served via e-mail, which was not a legal way to send such documents.

This week, an appeals panel affirmed a lower court's decision to allow the Las Vegas casino to serve the offshore casino electronically after attempts to reach it via traditional methods failed.

"When faced with an international e-business scofflaw playing hide-and-seek with the federal court, e-mail may be the only means of effecting service of process," the court said. The judges also pointed out that the offshore casino had gone so far as to set up a business that only accepts e-mail correspondence.

They also cited another ruling, which allowed a party to be served by telex by saying that courts "cannot be blind to the changes and advances in technology." However, the 9th Circuit judges acknowledged the limitations of e-mail service, including problems verifying parties had actually received the documents.

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