Case of the Day: Landstar Global Logistics v. Robinson & Robinson

The case of the day is Landstar Global Logistics, Inc. v. Robinson & Robinson, Inc. (Cal. Ct. App. 2013). Landstar had won a judgment against Robinson in the Florida state courts. Landstar brought an action to recognize and enforce the Florida judgment in the San Diego County Superior Court. The court recognized the Forida judgment and issued a writ of execution.

Later, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., sued Robinson and others in the San Diego Superior Court for payment of a defaulted loan. The court, at Wells Fargo’s request, appointed a receiver for Robinson. Wells Fargo also brought an action against Robinson in Mexico, and the Mexican court imposed a lien in Wells Fargo’s favor on real property held in trust for the benefit of Robinson.

Landstar, evidently aware that Wells Fargo had put itself at the head of the line by chasing Robinson’s assets in Mexico, asked the San Diego court to issue a letter rogatory under the Inter-American Convention requesting that the Mexican court recognize the California judgment liens and assign the right to receive the proceeds of the sale of the property in trust to Landstar, and also sought a restraining order enjoining Robinson from transferring its rights to the Mexican property. The lower court granted all of the relief sought, and Robinson appealed. The issuance of the letter rogatory (but not the restraining order) was stayed pending the appeal. It turned out that the restraining order was improper as a matter of California law (though leaving aside any California-specific issues, it seems proper to me to issue an order in personam restraining a judgment debtor from transferring its property anywhere in the world). So I don’t consider the restraining order further here. Instead, let’s focus on the question whether it was proper to issue a letter rogatory in the first place.

The court correctly concluded that the Inter-American Convention did not authorize the letter rogatory. Article 2 of the Convention provides:

This Convention shall apply to letters rogatory, issued in conjunction with proceedings in civil and commercial matters held before the appropriate judicial or other adjudicatory authority of one of the States Parties to this Convention, that have as their purpose:
a. The performance of procedural acts of a merely formal nature, such as service of process, summonses or subpoenas abroad;
b. The taking of evidence and the obtaining of information abroad, unless a reservation is made in this respect.

The court construed the phrase “procedural acts of a merely formal nature.” a “Procedural act” is a step “taken according to rules that prescribe the manner of conducting litigation or other judicial business, as opposed to rules that define parties’ substantive rights and obligations.” “Formal,” according to the court, here means “adhering to accepted forms, conventions, or regulations,” such as the “special or stipulated solemnities or formalities required for an act to become effective.” Thus the Convention extends to “customary or conventional steps that are taken to provide a person with a legally sufficient notice of a proceeding or of a document filed or issued in a proceeding, but that do not alter the person’s substantive rights or obligations.” The obvious conclusion: the Convention does not authorize a letter rogatory aimed at obtaining a substantive remedy such as an attachment or recognition of a California judgment liens.

Does this mean that the California court was forbidden to send a letter rogatory seeking such relief? I don’t know of any reason why the California court couldn’t send such a request, even if it is not authorized by the Convention. How a Mexican court would treat such a request is really a question of Mexican law, to which I don’t know the answer. If Mexico grants substantive relief on a foreign judgment without first recognizing the judgment, then it seems to me that Mexico is an outlier.

7 responses to “Case of the Day: Landstar Global Logistics v. Robinson & Robinson”

  1. The Landstar case has caused a great deal of confusion for practitioners on the California side of the border. Mexican Courts will recognize a foreign judgment, provided that it does not concern an action in rem. In a nutshell, if it is a money judgment from a contracts or torts case, you can enforce it. The Mexican Court will look at due process issues (whether party against enforcement is sought was served, wether the US court had jurisdiction in a manner consistent with Mexican procedural law, that the foreign judgment is res judicata). However, I am getting a lot of comments from California attorneys saying to me, in a nutshell, California Judges are not authorized to issue letters rogatory. I don’t think they are Reading the Landstar correctly. I do have a question, What gives a US Judge authority to issue a letter rogatory? Is it a inherent authority? Is it based on precedent?

    1. Alejandro, thanks for the comment. I don’t know California practice and so can’t comment on the source of a California court’s power to issue a letter rogatory. In federal practice, letters rogatory are authorized under FRCP 28, and the same is true in many states, e.g., in Massachusetts, where I practice. But the rules aside, I think there is plenty of authority for the proposition that a court has inherent authority to issue a letter rogatory.

      I agree with you that nothing in the decision should be read to forbid a judge to issue a letter rogatory. But crazy things can happen in California. I’ve appeared pro hac vice in the state and federal courts there several times and am always struck by how differently things work there.

      1. Alejandro Osuna

        What is the rule on the issuance of letters rogatory under the FRCP? I see the rules under ss 1781 and 1782, but do not believe these are relevant for specifically authorizing a US Judge to issue a LR to a judge, say, in Mexico , asking for cooperation to enforce a judgment. So far, in two cases I have been consulted with, one from Maryland and another one from California, the judges have refused to issue Letters Rogatory claiming that they had no authority to do so. What do you think? Aren’t these US judges undermining their own authority? Aren’t they, in a nuthsell, denying justice to their own citizens because of their unwiligness to ask for assistance to a foreign court?

        1. I think you’re right that neither § 1781 nor § 1782 gives a standard. Section 1782 doesn’t even deal with letters rogatory originating from US courts. Nor does FRCP 28 spell out the factors. I think it is really a matter of common law.

          I’m very surprised that a judge would take the view that a US court lacks the power to issue a letter rogatory. I’d be happy to discuss particular cases with you offline.

  2. SJ Foster

    Does anyone have an update on this? We’re needing to have a California judgment recognized by the Mexico courts and Landstar Global appears to still be controlling law in California. Is it possible that “domesticating” the California judgment in Mexico is different from the “registration of a judgment lien” that was sought in Landstar Global? Of course, once the Mexico court recognizes the California judgment, we intend to use the enforcement of judgment law of Mexico to collect from the California judgment debtor who owns an LLC in Mexico holding realty.

    1. SJ, I think you need to consult with a lawyer! Please feel free to reach out to me via the contact page, and if not me, be sure to find someone.

    2. How did your case end up? I just read your post (seven years late!)

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