On March 22, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on the issue of international service of process in the case of Water Splash v. Menon. The question before the Court is whether the Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters (the “Hague Service Convention”) allows service of process by mail. The Hague Service Convention is a multilateral treaty that allows for service of process of legal documents from one member country to another without the use of consular or diplomatic channels for the purpose of providing a uniform method for delivering notice of foreign lawsuit to entities overseas.
The case involves Water Splash, Inc., a Delaware corporation that makes aquatic playgrounds known as “splash pads” used in public parks, and Tara Menon, a Canadian citizen living in Quebec who had at one point worked for Water Splash as a regional sales representative. Menon left Water Splash to work for its competitor South Pool. Water Splash filed suit against Menon in Texas state court, alleging that South Pool had used some of Water Splash’s drawings and designs in a bid to construct splash pads at two city parks in Galveston, Texas. Water Splash followed the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure and served Menon by mail. Menon failed to respond and the trial court awarded Water Splash a default judgment. Menon thereafter filed a motion for a new trial seeking to set aside the default judgment, arguing that service was not accomplished pursuant to the Hague Service Convention. The trial court denied Menon’s motion. The Texas Court of Appeals reversed and held that the Hague Service Convention did not authorize service by mail. The Supreme Court of Texas denied review.
The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide whether the Hague Service Convention allows for service by mail on defendants residing in foreign countries. The United States has submitted an amicus curiae arguing in favor of the majority view that service of process by mail is permitted provided the state of designation does not object to such service. Supporters of the majority view point to Article 10(a) of the Hague Service Convention, which states that provided there is no objection, the Convention does not interfere with the freedom to send judicial documents by mail directly to persons abroad. Under the default provisions of the treaty, service must be performed through a lengthy and expensive process involving a state designated central authority that would funnel service from foreign courts to the defendants residing in that state. The decision will have a particularly significant impact on manufacturers in the context of product liability suits as the Supreme Court may finally resolve the circuit split across the U.S. over the interpretation of the Hague Service Convention.