De Gazelle Grp., Inc. v. Tamaz Trading Establishment, 817 F.3d 747 (11th Cir. 2016) [click for opinion]

Plaintiff-Appellee De Gazelle Group, Inc. ("De Gazelle") is a Florida corporation that brought breach of contract claims against Defendant-Appellant Tamaz Trading Establishment ("Tamaz") in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. In September of 2013, De Gazelle attempted to serve Tamaz, a Saudi Arabian company, by sending a summons and a copy of the complaint via Federal Express to Tamaz's registered agent at its Post Office box in Saudi Arabia.

After Tamaz did not respond to the complaint within 21 days, De Gazelle moved for a clerk's default. De Gazelle's motion was denied by a magistrate judge on the grounds that: (1) De Gazelle had provided no authority for service via Federal Express; (2) the summons was delivered to an unidentified "Receptionist/Front Desk" at a post office box; and (3) service occurred on a Saturday, which was a weekend day in Saudi Arabia.

Later, Tamaz's registered agent contacted De Gazelle's counsel, which De Gazelle argued was confirmation that Tamaz had been properly served. De Gazelle then moved for authorization to serve Tamaz via Federal Express under Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(f)(3) (which allows service of process "by other means not prohibited by international agreement, as the court orders"). Based on the evidence that Tamaz had received the summons and complaint, the magistrate judge granted De Gazelle's motion to serve Tamaz via Federal Express, and found that service had been retroactively effected on September 21, 2013. The district court later entered a default judgment of $2,500,000 on De Gazelle's claims.

On appeal, Tamaz argued that the district court erred in concluding that De Gazelle effected good service on September 21, 2013, because De Gazelle had failed to seek prior court authorization for service via Federal Express. The Eleventh Circuit agreed and vacated the order, reversed the default judgment and remanded the matter for further proceedings.

Essential to the Eleventh Circuit's holding was prior Supreme Court precedent explaining that "before a court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant . . . there must be authorization for service of summons on the defendant." The Eleventh Circuit explained that plaintiffs like De Gazelle must obtain prior approval for using an alternative method of effectuating service pursuant to Rule 4. Since De Gazelle only received approval to effectuate service via Federal Express after it had already used Federal Express to deliver its summons and complaint, De Gazelle did not satisfy the requirements of Rule 4.