Case of the Day: Johns v. Van Brunt Motors
Posted on November 21, 2011
The case of the day is Johns v. Van Brunt Motors (N.Y. App. Div. 2011). Johns sued Faurecia S.A., a French corporation with offices in Nanterre, in the New York Supreme Court in Chemung County. Johns filed the summons and complaint with the court, but it served the defendant only with the summons and a notice. (New York is one of the states that does not require service of the complaint with the summons, a point familiar to me from Murphy Bros. v. Michetti Pipe Stringing, Inc., 526 U.S. 344 (1999), but which I’ve never really understood the sense of) moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the court lacked personal jurisdiction because Faurecia had not been properly served with process.
The court held that under New York law, where the plaintiff commenced the action by filing a summons and complaint, it is improper to serve only a summons and notice, but that there was no prejudice, as Faurecia had demanded and received a copy of the complaint. Therefore, the court affirmed the denial of the motion for summary judgment.
The court’s decision may be right, but it seems too cursory to me. Under Article 1, the Convention applies whenever there is occasion, under the law of the forum, to transmit a judicial document abroad. It seems to me that the court is acknowledging that under New York law, the complaint was required to be served abroad. The court basically held that delivery of the complaint to Faurecia’s US lawyer cured any prejudice. But the court doesn’t consider whether lack of prejudice can excuse failure to comply with the treaty. Even if lack of prejudice excuses noncompliance as a matter of New York civil procedure, does it excuse noncompliance as a matter of the United States’s international obligations? I would like to see this fleshed out more.
I want to note the similarity of this case to the suggestion made by Chris Voltz under Pennsylvania law, which seems similar to New York law in relevant respects. Readers may want to have a look at my post on Chris’s suggestion.