Case of the Day: Montana Trucks, LLC v. UD Trucks North America, Inc.

The case of the day is Montana Trucks, LLC v. UD Trucks North America, Inc. (D. Mont. 2013). UD Trucks was headquartered in Saitama, Japan. Montana Trucks sought leave under FRCP 4(f)(3) to serve the summons and complaint by mail and courier, and to serve the documents without a translation.

Let’s pause for a moment. Article 10(a) of the Hague Service Convention provides that the Convention does not interfere with the freedom to send judicial documents via the postal channel. Why, then, did Montana Trucks think it necessary to seek leave of court? FRCP 4(f)(1) permits service by “any internationally agreed means of service … such as those authorized by the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents,” and FRCP 4(f)(2)(C)(ii) permits service by mail, unless prohibited by the foreign country’s law. But FRCP 4(f)(2)(C)(ii) applies only “if there is no internationally agreed means, or if an international agreement allows but does not specify other means.”

I have previously noted a split of authority about whether the Convention affirmatively authorizes service by mail, or whether, on the other hand, it merely permits service by mail. If the Convention itself authorizes service by mail, then Montana Trucks could simply have mailed the documents under FRCP 4(f)(1), without leave of court. The Hague Convention’s translation requirements apply only when the service of process is to be effected under Article 5, via the foreign state’s central authority. So assuming that on the facts of the case the service of untranslated documents does not pose any Due Process problems, there was no reason for a motion.

If, on the other hand, the Convention does not affirmatively authorize service by mail—and I believe this is the better reading of Article 10—is service by FRCP 4(f)(2)(C)(ii) available? In prior posts, I’ve more or less assumed that it is, noting only that in such cases the mail must be addressed and sent by the clerk rather than the plaintiff, as FRCP 4(f)(2)(C)(ii) requires on its face. But remember that FRCP 4(f)(2) comes into play only “if there is no internationally agreed means, or if an international agreement allows but does not specify other means.” In a Hague Convention case there are internationally agreed means. So the question is whether the Convention “allows but does not specify other means.” It seems to me the answer is “no.” The Convention specifies all of the means it allows, including service by postal channels. It seems to me that the language of FRCP 4(f)(2) doesn’t relate to the Hague Convention, but rather to conventions such as the Inter-American Convention on Letters Rogatory, which are non-exclusive, i.e., which authorize particular methods of service but which do not forbid otherwise applicable methods of service.

So although I don’t know offhand of cases on point, I think that if you want to serve process via postal channels under the Convention, and if you are in a jurisdiction like the Ninth Circuit that holds that the Convention itself does not affirmatively authorize service of process, yes, you should bring a motion for leave of court under FRCP 4(f)(3).

The court, after a longer discussion than was really necessary, approved service by mail. So far so good. But the court then rejected the motion for leave to serve untranslated documents. It did so in part on due process grounds, which is conceivably correct, though given that the defendant was apparently a sophisticated business entity, it’s questionable whether there was really a due process concern here. More troublesome was the judge’s conclusion that the Convention required translations. As I have previously pointed out, translations are only required if the service is to be made via the Central Authority. So the judge got this point wrong.

About Ted Folkman

Ted Folkman is a shareholder with Murphy & King, a Boston law firm, where he has a complex business litigation practice. He is the author of International Judicial Assistance (MCLE 2d ed. 2016), a nuts-and-bolts guide to international judicial assistance issues, and of the chapter on service of process in the ABA's forthcoming treatise on International Aspects of US Litigation, and he is the publisher of Letters Blogatory, the Web's first blog devoted to international judicial assistance, which the ABA recognized as one of the best 100 legal blogs in 2012, 2014, and 2015.

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