Leon v. Continental AG, No. 16-cv-20572 (S.D. Fla. Apr. 1, 2016) [click for opinion]

Plaintiff sued several foreign defendants in an action relating to allegedly defective airbags installed in Mercedes-Benz and Honda vehicles in the United States. Some of the defendants, including Japanese defendant Honda Motor Co., Ltd. ("Honda"), conducted business in the United States, but did not maintain a registered agent for service of process. Accordingly, Plaintiff moved to effect service of process on Honda pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters (the "Hague Convention").

Under Rule 4(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, parties can effect service of process on international defendants "by any internationally agreed means of service that is reasonably calculated to give notice, such as those authorized by the Hague [Service] Convention," and "unless prohibited by the foreign country's law," by using any form of mail that the clerk addresses and sends to the individual and that requires a signed receipt. Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(f)(1), f(2)(c)(ii). Under Article 10(a) of the Hague Convention, "if the State of destination does not object, the Hague Convention does not change the freedom to send judicial documents, by postal channels, directly to persons abroad."

Although the Eleventh Circuit has not ruled on whether Article 10(a) permits parties to effectuate service of process on foreign defendants via mail, the court ruled, based on precedent from other Federal Courts of Appeals, that parties can serve foreign defendants via mail if their home countries did not object to Article 10(a). The court reached that conclusion, in part, because the authority holding to the contrary is at odds with the position of the United States Department of State. According to the court, the Department of State's interpretation of treaties is given "special weight," and the Department of State stated in 1990 that it believed the official view of the Japanese government was that service of process by mail does not violate the nation's judicial sovereignty. Thus, the court permitted plaintiff to effect service of process on Honda via mail.