Case of the Day: Estate of Jackson v. Sandnes

The case of the day is Estate of Jackson v. Sandnes (M.D. Fla. 2013). Cathy Jackson-Platts, the personal representative of the Estate of Juanita Jackson, sued Michael Sandnes, the receiver of Trans Healthcare, Inc., for deprivation of civil rights and civil conspiracy. Sandnes, an American, resided in Saudi Arabia. The Estate filed a proof of service indicating that Ziyad Al Safi, a private process server, had effected service by leaving the documents at Sandnes’s residence (apparently he worked at a Saudi hospital and lived in a room at the hospital while there) with M.H. Alqadi, a “person of suitable age and discretion who resides there.” The return of service continued:

Substituted service was made because Michael Sandnes was not present. Service was made on 08/30/2013, at 2:50 p.m. He has a room on the premises which he uses as his residence when in Najran, K.S.A. Copies of the same documents were mailed to Sandnes on August 30, 2013 from Najran, K.S.A.

A later declaration from Al Safri stated that Alqadi was the “son of the owner of the hospital.”

The Estate also submitted a declaration from Nelson Tucker, the owner of a process service firm, who said he was “fully familiar with the requirements for service of process in every country” (wow!) and who stated:

I have reviewed the issues related to the service and conclude that the service complies with the law of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Saudi law does not prohibit substituted service.

Sandnes moved to quash the service.

The governing rule is FRCP 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.” On this issue, the expert’s declaration was entirely conclusory, and a court might well have disregarded it as a pure ipse dixit that in any event opines on what Saudi law does or doesn’t forbid instead of opining on what Saudi law prescribes. I don’t know anything about Saudi law, but it appears that the Sharia courts, which are, as I understand it, the country’s courts of general jurisdiction today, apparently have rules of procedure, namely the Law of Procedure before Sharia Courts, Royal Decree No.M/21, 20 Jumada I, 1421 [19 August 2000] that govern the method of service. Article 15 provides:

The server shall deliver a copy of the process to the person to be served at his place of residence or work if available; otherwise, he shall deliver it to whoever of his family members, relatives, and in-laws residing with him is present, or to whoever works in his service that is present.

If none of them is present or the one present refuses acceptance, the copy shall be delivered, according to the circumstance, to the Umdah of the quarter, the police station, to the head of the ‘center,’ or the chief of the tribe within whose jurisdiction lies the place of residence of the person to be served, in that order.

The process server shall indicate same in detail at that time on the original of the process. Within twenty-four hours of the delivery of a copy to the administrative agency the server shall send a letter—registered with acknowledgement of receipt—to the person to be served at his place of residence or work notifying him that a copy had been delivered to the administrative agency.

Did the service comply with this article? It doesn’t seem that Alqadi was Sandnes’s “family member, relative, or in-law,” or a person who “worked in his service.” Nor does it appear that Al Safri delivered the documents to the Umdah of the quarter, the police station, etc. So just on the face of the documents, it’s not clear to me that the service was in accordance with Saudi rules governing service of process in actions in its courts of general jurisdiction.

Sandnes, however, did not argue the point of Saudi law to the court, and so the judge held the service sufficient, overlooking “any irregularities present in the Return of Service documents before the Court.” Ultimately there is little prejudice here, since even if the service had been quashed the Estate could have sought—and likely would have received—leave to serve process on Sandnes’s US counsel under FRCP 4(f)(3). Still, it would be better, when making assertions about the law of the country where service is to be made, to do more than simply state the conclusion, perhaps, for example, by citing the relevant law itself.

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