He’s 7’1 and weighs about 325 pounds.
He’s a 15-time NBA All-Star, four-time champion, former MVP and a basketball Hall of Famer.
He’s a regular on national TV broadcasts, including as a TNT analyst for this year’s Eastern Conference Finals.
He’s one of the planet’s most instantly recognizable celebrities.
So why have process servers representing the crypto investors suing Shaquille O’Neal had such trouble tracking down the big fella?
O’Neal, along with Tom Brady, Steph Curry and other prominent athletes who aggressively promoted FTX and similar crypto and NFT-related properties, is being sued by those who claim they regrettably relied on his guidance.
According to Pro Football Talk, O’Neal was served papers during Game 5 between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat at Miami’s Kaseya Center on Tuesday notifying him he has been sued. It is unclear at this time whether O’Neal’s attorneys will object to the lawfulness of the service or accept it and answer and seek dismissal of the complaints.
O’Neal, like the other athlete defendants, is described as playing a larger role than mere endorser. He supposedly presented himself as something of a financial advisor who drew on his business acumen and cryptocurrency knowledge and even shaped some of the investment opportunities.
On Tuesday, O’Neal was sued in a Miami federal court, accused of offering and selling unregistered securities, including tokens and NFTs in connection with The Astrals Project.
Whether these lawsuits advance remains to be seen. Judges are often skeptical that endorsers are responsible for the wrongdoings of endorsed companies. Investors also rely on various sources—not just what a celebrity says—before making a purchase and, with FTX, the celebrities themselves lost money.
Last December, a federal judge dismissed a case against EthereumMax promoters Floyd Mayweather and Kim Kardashian, reasoning the investors should have done more homework before buying based on what a boxer and socialite suggested.
But O’Neal’s initial defense strategy has been to object to the lawfulness of the service.
Earlier this month, his attorneys claimed that process servers hired by investors tried to serve him in Georgia without authority to do so and by “tossing” legal documents in front of O’Neal’s “moving car,” with O’Neal apparently driving on while the documents stayed on the road.
Service of process is a complex topic in law, but the key elements begin with the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. It prohibits citizens from being denied “life, liberty or property” without a fair shake. The government, including courts and judges, can’t use secret proceedings to strip Americans of what they own.
In fact, per the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a case can be dismissed for insufficient service of process. Citizens have a right to receive a summons, which indicates that a person is being sued and how the defendant can respond.
For its part, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that citizens are entitled to notice that is “reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections.” This language has been interpreted to require information about where and when a proceeding will occur and its potential consequences.
States have their own rules. As explained by Professor Angela Upchurch of Southern Illinois University School of Law, in-hand personal service is normally regarded as the “gold standard.” States vary on which locations service can be made—some states, for example, don’t permit someone to be served when they’re in a house of worship—or whether a licensed server or sheriff must be involved, and what time of day the serving can be carried out.
States also vary on whether service is authorized when placed on a person’s home or on other structures, and how conspicuously the document must appear. There are also differences over who besides the intended target can accept service, with age restrictions and a family relationship often key.
Most important for O’Neal, service of process complications can usually be remedied, meaning the person is eventually served.
And, at that time, O’Neal will need to comply.
Someone who refuses to take physical possession of a summons will ordinarily be judged as having been served. If they don’t participate in the legal proceeding thereafter, they face a default judgment.
But served or not, O’Neal can still try to “dunk” on the lawsuit by claiming it’s a frivolous case. Precedent suggests he might hit nothing but net.