The New Jersey case Shenounda v. Mehanna made it very clear how important it is to choose the right method for international service of process. In this particular case, the court state is service isn’t properly effectuated, then the judgment can be vacated due to a lack of jurisdiction no matter how long it’s been since the judgment has been filed.
In Shenounda v. Mehanna, a concert promoter was suing two individuals, Samira Abdel Razik Said and Hani Ahmed Mehhanna, for breach of contract after they committed to performing a US tour.
The plaintiff served the defendants by forwarding the documents to a small courts claim process service to complete service. When serving Said, the process server made one attempt then mailed the documents by certified mail.
As neither defendant filed an answer or made an appearance, the court entered a final default judgment against the defendants for $876,600.
When the plaintiff went to collect on the judgment, Said claimed she wasn’t properly served as this was the first she had head of the proceedings. Said then filed a motion to vacate the judgment and dismiss the complaint.
THE HAGUE CONVENTION & FEDERAL RULES APPLIED
Under The Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents, countries who are signatories designate a central authority to accept service requests. The central authority forwards the request to local officials who then serve the documents.
If the defendant resides in a country which is a signatory to the Hague Convention then service of process must be effectuated in accordance with the provisions of the Convention. Service of any other type is automatically void in cases involving judgments.
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are very clear in stating the Convention’s rules must be followed if the country is a signatory. FCRP 4(f) states:
(f) Serving an Individual in a Foreign Country. Unless federal law provides otherwise, an individual—other than a minor, an incompetent person, or a person whose waiver has been filed—may be served at a place not within any judicial district of the United States:
(1) by any internationally agreed means of service that is reasonably calculated to give notice, such as those authorized by the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents;
(2) if there is no internationally agreed means, or if an international agreement allows but does not specify other means, by a method that is reasonably calculated to give notice
There is also another piece of the Hague Convention which applies. While offering countries other options to serve as an alternate to the central authority, the Hague Convention also includes Articles which can allow countries to object to particular methods of alternate service. In this particular instance Egypt objected in both Articles 8 and 10 which allow service through postal channels.
Ultimately the court vacated the judgment for lack of jurisdiction and dismissed the complaint.
This ruling set the bar for future requirements of international service of process through the Hague Convention: if a foreign country is a signatory then that is the only way service can be completed for the purposes of collecting a judgment.
When choosing an international service method be sure to choose wisely. Not only should service comply with international conventions and treaties, but also with local and federal laws and rules. Pay careful attention to the particular provisions, objections and articles of each country or you could find yourself with a vacated judgment.