December 22, 2011 Articles

Service Abroad under Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(f)(3)

Rule 4(f)(3) offers a method to save significant time and expense in serving defendants outside the United States

by Aaron Weiss

Service of a U.S. complaint and summons on a defendant located outside the United States can sometimes be the most difficult aspect of pursuing a claim against an international adversary. Dozens of countries—including the United States—are parties to the Hague Convention of November 15, 1965, on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters. In addition, several Latin American countries are parties to the Inter-American Convention on Letters Rogatory (the Inter-American Convention) and the Additional Protocol to the Inter-American Convention on Letters Rogatory. (The United States has a treaty relationship only with countries that are a party to both the Inter-American Convention and the Additional Protocol. There is authority suggesting that compliance with the Inter-American Convention may not be mandatory. See Kreimerman v. Casa Veerkamp, S.A. de C.V., 22 F.3d 634 (5th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1016 (1994); Pizzabiocche v. Vinelli, 772 F. Supp. 1245 (M.D. Fla. 1991).) Collectively, the Hague Service Convention and the Inter-American Convention provide an established set of rules for effectuated service in more than 75 countries. However, there are more than 100 countries that are not party to either of those treaties and are not party to a separate bilateral service treaty with the United States.

Luckily, plaintiffs in U.S. federal court proceedings need not throw up their hands in frustration, trying to serve process on a defendant in one of these more than 100 nonsignatory countries. Rule 4(f)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows for service on individuals located outside of the United States to be accomplished by "other means not prohibited by international agreement as may be directed by the court." Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(h)(2) applies the broadly worded Rule 4(f)(3) for service on foreign business entities. Many U.S. federal courts have been quite accommodating in authorizing sometimes novel methods of service.

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