Case of the Day: JB Custom, Inc. v. Amadeo Rossi, S.A.

The case of the day is JB Custom, Inc. v. Amadeo Rossi, S.A. (N.D. Ind. 2011). JB Custom, a firearm manufacturer, designed and sold the “Mare’s Leg”, a custom lever-action gun. It sued Amadeo Rossi and Forjas Taurus, two Brazilian firms, for trademark infringement and for breach of an “exclusivity agreement”. JB Custom attempted to serve process by certified mail addressed to the Brazilian companies’ headquarters in Brazil. The Brazilian defendants moved to dismiss on the grounds of insufficient service of process.

Brazil is not a party to the Hague Service Convention, but it is a party to the Inter-American Convention on Letters Rogatory. The Inter-American Convention allows alternate methods of service, without specifying them. Thus under Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(f)(2)(C)(ii), service by certified mail could be an acceptable method of service, but only if the mail is sent by the clerk. Since JB Custom itself sent the documents, the court quickly discounted this possibility.

The remaining possibility was Rule 4(f)(2)(A), which permits service “as prescribed by the foreign country’s law for service in that country in an action in its courts of general jurisdiction.” But does this refer to Brazilian law that applies when a Brazilian files a lawsuit in Brazil, or to Brazilian law that applies to service in Brazil in a case brought elsewhere? The latter, the court held, because if a country has enacted laws specifically governing service of process in its territory where the action was brought abroad, it would be an affront to that country’s sovereignty to allow service under the law applicable in the country’s general domestic litigation. After reviewing competing expert affidavits, the judge determined that Brazilian law did require service by letter rogatory in cases against persons in Brazil in foreign jurisdictions. So the service by mail was improper under Rule 4(f)(2)(A).

JB Custom asked the court to approve an alternate method of service under Rule 4(f)(3). It noted that prior State Department guidance indicated it could take up to three years to serve a letter rogatory in Brazil. (The current State Department guidance does not include such a statement). But the court did not the difficulties of obtaining service via a letter rogatory persuasive:

But even if I were to presume that it remains difficult to obtain service in Brazil via letters rogatory, for the reasons just stated I will not override the laws a sovereign state like Brazil just because they are perceived to be slow or difficult. Any questions about the ways in which Brazil processes letters rogatory or complies with the Inter–American Convention are ultimately diplomatic issues for the executive branch. For me to impose by fiat a rule allowing service on Brazilians in a manner that Brazil has apparently resisted for decades would be to side-step the State department and its role in negotiating with the sovereign state of Brazil.

If the question is whether the court could authorize service by mail on the defendants in Brazil, then I think the court’s approach may be persuasive, particularly if Brazilian law actually forbids service by mail from abroad (it’s not clear from the court’s discussion whether that is so). But I don’t regard the decision as ultimately persuasive, because the court could authorize service on the Brazilian defendants’ US counsel without any offense to Brazilian sovereignty that I can see. So I think this case is probably not correctly decided.

2 responses to “Case of the Day: JB Custom, Inc. v. Amadeo Rossi, S.A.”

  1. Kerri

    It was clear from the briefing that Brazilian law prohibited service by mail. Further, Brazil found it to be an offense to Brazilian sovereignty if one of its domiciliaries were served by ANY METHOD OTHER THAN by Letters Rogatory. Thus, service on US counsel would clearly be improper. Also, oral arguments made clear that the plaintiffs had not attempted any service of process other than dropping something in the mail. The judge indicated that, if they had TRIED service via letters rogatory, and that service was unsuccessful or it was taking an unreasonably long time, AND if the plaintiff moved for an order for alternative service (in this case they did not), they the judge would have considered alternative service in that exceptional circumstance.

    1. Thanks, Kerri, for the comment. It’s possible, as you say, that Brazil would regard service on the US counsel as improper, and that could come into play if the plaintiff sought recognition and enforcement of a judgment in Brazil. But since service on a US lawyer takes place in the United States, it’s difficult for me to see how Brazil could make a strong case that such service would offend its sovereignty, which is really a territorial notion.

      Your references to the briefs and the argument lead me to think that you were involved in the case. If so, I’d be grateful for any other impressions you have!

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