When the cryptocurrency company FTX dissolved, many innocent investors lost millions. The FTX collapse prompted a class-action lawsuit by aggrieved investors. A number of high-profile celebrities and athletes, including Larry David, Tom Brady, and Steph Curry, have been named in the class-action lawsuit because they were paid spokespersons for FTX. Let’s point out from the beginning: it seems like a crazy stretch to sue these people.
One of the famous people named in the lawsuit is former basketball icon Shaquille O’Neal. Over the last several months, however, Shaq has allegedly been actively avoiding service of process attempts by attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Brady, Curry, and the rest of the big-name defendants have all voluntarily accepted service in the case, but Shaq remained a deliberately elusive target for process servers, prompting some to call for a foul.
Update: The process server attended Game 4 by purchasing a ticket – which had to cost a fortune – and approached O’Neal while he was on the Inside the NBA set. Two lawsuits were served to him, with the second one relating to his Astrals NFT Project. It is alleged that O’Neal was not amused by the situation and had the process server removed from the arena, which is crazy.
Service of Process
The process of “serving” court papers is a crucial aspect of the justice system. Service of process is a tradition that has evolved over centuries to ensure due process and fairness in legal proceedings. It is based on the very fundamental concept that courts should not take action against someone without notifying them first. The practice has its roots in the early legal systems of Europe, and it was later adapted and refined by the British and then further developed in the United States.
In the English legal system, during the Middle Ages, the procedure of service was rather rudimentary. If someone wanted to bring a lawsuit, they would inform the local sheriff and identify the individual named as the defendant. The sheriff would then notify the defendant verbally or deliver a writ—a written command in the name of a court or other tribunal acting under the authority of the king. The case against the defendant could not commence unless and until the sheriff delivered the writ or notice. This was a very simple form of service of process, but it established the precedent that defendants must be notified of actions against them.
As the legal system evolved and society became more complex, it became necessary to develop more formal, reliable methods of notifying parties involved in legal proceedings. This led to the formation of the modern concept of ‘service of process,’ where legal documents are formally delivered to individuals in accordance with strict rules to ensure that these individuals are fully and fairly notified of any legal proceedings against them.
In the U.S., the founding fathers recognized the importance of ensuring a person’s right to notice and the opportunity to be heard. This principle, known as due process, is enshrined in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.
Service of process is considered a fundamental aspect of due process because it ensures that no person is deprived of life, liberty, or property without the opportunity to defend their interests. In essence, it guarantees that everyone has their day in court, and no judgment is rendered against them without them being fully aware of the action and having the chance to respond.
Current Service of Process Rules
The rules governing the service of process can vary slightly depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the case. For the most part, however, the basic elements of service of process requirements are the same in every state. Service of process generally requires that legal papers be physically delivered to the defendant or their authorized representative.
Hand-delivery is the most direct and reliable method of effecting service of process. It is also the method of service that is strongly preferred by courts and the legal system because it gives the most assurance that the defendant is made aware of the legal case against them. Most states permit physical delivery service to be done either by the local sheriff’s office or by any adult citizen other than the plaintiff or another party in the case. Most deliveries today are handled by private process server companies.
Physical delivery is not always the only way effect service of process. All states have rules that permit alternative service of process methods to be utilized in situations where hand delivery is not possible or impractical. In most cases, however, utilizing these alternative service methods requires court approval. This approval is obtained by filing a motion for alternative service and convincing a judge that the proposed method of service is necessary and appropriate.
Shaq’s Efforts to Duck Process Servers in FTX Lawsuit
Shaquille O’Neal is the only celebrity defendant named in the FTX lawsuit who has allegedly not accepted the service, according to the attorneys for the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs’ lawyers claim that they have spent the last several months attempting to serve Shaq in the case. Private process servers hired by the lawyers have repeatedly sought to hand deliver the legal documents to Shaq at several of his private residences, his ex-wife’s residence, and even outside the TNT studios where he works as an NBA analyst.
The exhaustive efforts to serve Shaq have been unsuccessful, apparently because the former basketball start has gone out of his way to avoid getting served. Shaq has effectively utilized security personnel and barriers to shield himself from the process servers. At one point, a process server sought to chase O’Neal down only to end up throwing the legal papers at Shaq’s car as it pulled away.
The lack of success eventually led lawyers for the plaintiffs to file a motion for alternative service. The motion requested court approval to serve O’Neal via social media. A judge denied the motion.
After months of failure and frustration, the plaintiffs’ lawyers have recently started taking their battle public by attacking Shaq in the press and on social media. The lawyers reached out to the Wall Street Journal and several other news outlets to blast Shaq for what they view as deliberate and shameful efforts to evade service. The plaintiffs’ lawyers have also taken shots at O’Neal via social media. On April 14, 2023, somewhat comically, the law firm representing the FTX plaintiffs sent the following Tweet to Shaq:
@NBAonTNT For @SHAQ O’Neal: We represent thousands of FTX victims who lost their savings in the massive FTX fraud. We have been standing outside your TNT studios in Atlanta all week, but your security guards will not let us in, to just hand deliver our legal complaint.
One of the attorneys for the FTX investors, Adam Moskowitz, expressed his frustration at the situation, stating, “In 30 years, I’ve never had to deal with this situation. We are not going away.”
O’Neal’s lawyers have recently responded to the public criticism by denying that Shaq has been deliberately evading service of process. They claim that Shaq has simply not been home when the process servers went to his houses and is not in the habit of allowing strangers to approach him in public.
Recent Case Involving Service of Process
A recent appellate decision from California in the case of Buckley v. Obeng illustrates a similar situation involving a defendant seeking to avoid service of process.
Facts of Buckley v. Obeng
A married couple accused Dr. Obeng, a board-certified plastic surgeon, and Miko Surgery Center, a California corporation engaged in the business of plastic and aesthetic surgery, of unethical and invasive conduct. The complaint alleged that Dr. Obeng performed a surgical procedure on the woman, and then, insanely, without her consent or knowledge, posted her nude photos on his and the center’s social media accounts, leading to immense emotional distress for the couple. Their counsel made repeated demands for the removal of the photos, and although the pictures were eventually taken down, they argued the emotional damage was already done.
After receiving no response to their complaint, the couple requested the court to enter a default judgment presenting proof that the summons and complaint had been served to Dr. Obeng and the surgery center in July and August of the same year. Later, a statement of damages was also served. Approximately a year later, the court ruled in favor of the couple, finding Dr. Obeng and Miko Surgery Center jointly liable for invasion of privacy. The woman was awarded $500,000 in general damages, while her husband received $100,000 for loss of consortium. In addition, they were awarded attorney fees and other costs.
Shortly after the judgment, Dr. Obeng and Miko Surgery Center moved to vacate the default and default judgment, arguing that they had never been served with the summons and complaint. Dr. Obeng provided a declaration stating he was in surgery at the time of the supposed service.
Ruling in Buckely v. Obeng
In this case, Dr. Obeng and Miko did not wait long to file their motion to overturn the default judgment – just two weeks after its entry. While the couple agreed that the motion was timely concerning the default judgment, they argued that it was untimely in respect of the entry of default. However, even though the request to overturn the default was late, it doesn’t mean setting aside the default judgment without setting aside the default would be pointless. As the law states, even a party in default may still move for a new trial based on legal errors or appeal from the new default judgment if the challenged judgment is set aside. Hence, their motion to overturn the default judgment, timely filed, is valid for consideration.
From there, Dr. Obeng and Miko argued that the judgment is void based on Dr. Obeng’s declaration that he was in surgery at the time stated in the proof of service, implying he couldn’t have accepted service of the summons and complaint. But this is where the court stops the doctor in his tracks. The court didn’t credit Dr. Obeng’s declaration. Instead, the court found that Dr. Obeng’s failure to respond to the numerous documents served on him before the hearing for a default judgment showed his intention to willfully ignore the lawsuit. Hence, Dr. Obeng hasn’t proven that the judgment was void, and the court didn’t misuse its discretion when it denied his motion to vacate.
So the court rejected their arguments that the judgment was void due to lack of service of process or lack of actual notice. Moreover, their contention that they had been victims of a mistake or were excusably neglectful was dismissed for lack of evidence. The court also pointed out that both Dr. Obeng and Miko Surgery Center were seasoned litigants to say it kindly, having been involved in over 30 lawsuits in the past eight years.