Evildoers of Twitter Beware: You Can Now Be Served Lawsuits in a Tweet
Evading U.S. litigation just got more difficult for people living overseas.
By Steven Nelson | Staff Writer Oct. 6, 2016, at 5:40 p.m.
[Original article: http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/201 ... udge-rules ]
A Kuwaiti religious leader who allegedly raised money for jihadist rebels in Syria appears poised to become the first person served a U.S. lawsuit via Twitter.
Hajjaj bin Fahd al-Ajmi has been a hard man to reach for a lawyer seeking compensation in a northern California federal court on behalf of hundreds of thousands of Assyrian Christians who own property in Iraq and Syria.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler, resolving the impasse, found al-Ajmi has “an active Twitter account and continues to use it,” offering the “method of service most likely to reach" him to satisfy the service of process requirement for the case to move forward.
Al-Ajmi is accused by both the U.S. government and the U.N. Security Council of funneling money to armed terrorists.
Service via social network is not unprecedented, and Beeler leaned on rulings in at least two other cases to justify the novel delivery mechanism.
Previously, a federal judge in New York in 2014 allowed service via Facebook, LinkedIn and email to a Turkish citizen in a trademark dispute. In 2013, a federal judge in Virginia allowed the Federal Trade Commission to serve notice on five alleged fraudsters living in India via Facebook and email.
“I think it’s going to have a tremendous effect,” says Mogeeb Weiss, who represents the plaintiffs on behalf of the California-based non-profit St. Francis Assisi, which is made up of affiliated churches.
“You have a Twitter account and are trying to avoid service? Now I can just get you on Twitter, it’s huge. You can just serve them there on the spot," he says, noting though that attorneys still will have to show first that more traditional methods failed.
Al-Ajmi is a co-defendant in the pending lawsuit along with two banks he allegedly used to funnel money, sometimes raised with video and tweeted appeals, to Syria's Nusra Front.
The Nusra Front, a powerful rebel army formed in 2011, was originally a project of the al-Qaida-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq. It split in 2013 from its parent, with the rebranded Islamic State proclaiming a caliphate the next year over wide swaths of Iraq and Syria while Nusra continued to partner with other Syrian rebels, remaining loyal to al-Qaida until at least July.
The original relationship between Nusra and Islamic State terrorists entitles Assyrian victims of the latter to financial compensation, Weiss tells U.S. News.
A purported photo of al-Ajmi with rebels:
Assyrians are a large minority in northeastern Syria and northern Iraq. Hundreds were kidnapped when the Islamic State marauded through their villages in Syria and thousands more continue to be exiled from the historically Assyrian Nineveh plains east of Mosul in Iraq.Designated Nusra financier Hajaj al-Ajmi w. Nusra leaders Abu Hassan al-Kuwaiti, Sultan al-Atawi & Abu Jafar al-Iraqi pic.twitter.com/kMzzNtf3c8
— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) September 7, 2014
Weiss notes the judge did not specify a Twitter handle. He says he intends to tweet a link next week to two accounts associated with the target: @hajjaj_alajmi, which currently is suspended, and @hajjaj1407, which has recent Arabic language tweets. He says even if al Ajmi closed that Twitter account before he is served, the sheikh will see the tweet through its direction at some other organization with which he's associated.
Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman writes in a blog post that defendants plausibly could block incoming tweets, creating a due process dilemma. But he also write: "For all of those clamoring for social media sites to censor terrorists more vigorously, the court’s approval of service of process via social media provides an important counter-narrative about the value of keeping communication lines open."
The pending lawsuit, filed in June, says Assyrians have “been systematically subjected to unprovoked killings and displacement into refugee camps” and that defendants financed a group that “killed, injured, and maimed civilians and continue to do so even inside the United States.”
The two defendant banks are Turkey-based Kuveyt-Turk Participation Bank Inc. and Kuwait-based Kuwait Finance House. The lawsuit says the Kuwaiti-government-created institution owns more than 60 percent of Kuveyt-Turk Participation Bank, the institution to which al-Ajmi publicly solicited funds.
Weiss says the recently enacted Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which creates a new exception to lawsuit-derailing sovereign immunity when a foreign government so much as recklessly or indirectly aids terrorist attacks within the U.S., could help the case.
Though JASTA was passed by Congress overwhelmingly in the first veto override of Barack Obama’s presidency with the intention of allowing 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia, the Kuwaiti state’s bank stake places it on the hook, Weiss says.
The lawsuit does say Islamic State group attacks have occurred within the U.S., but Weiss says JASTA’s low threshold for liability also could kick in because the plaintiff entity is based in the U.S.
Fahad Habib, an attorney for the banks, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The operator of the still-active Twitter account identified by Weiss as belonging to al-Ajmi did not immediately respond to a tweet requesting comment.
A video recently tweeted by the account Weiss intends to serve:
Steven Nelson Staff Writer
Steven Nelson is a reporter at U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.