Case of the Day: Walters v. China

The case of the day is Walters v. People’s Republic of China (D.D.C. 2014). Debbie and Max Walters had a $10 million default judgment against China in the Western District of Missouri which they sought to enforce in the District of Columbia. The judge ordered China to produce certain documents to the Walterses, and China ignored the order. The Walterses asked the judge to hold China in contempt and impose daily monetary sanctions.

The judge, relying on FG Hemisphere Associates v. Democratic Republic of the Congo, 637 F.3d 373 (D.C. Cir. 2011), held that she had the power to hold the Chinese government in contempt and ordered it to produce the documents by a certain date or else to show cause why it should not be fined.

The decision curiously ignores the serious service of process problems with the case. The Walterses tried to serve documents on China via its central authority, but the central authority refused to serve the documents on Article 13 grounds. The court authorized them to serve process by mail on the Chinese ambassador, but that’s highly problematic under the FSIA, which does not permit alternative methods of service, and the Vienna Convention. I think the judge was too hasty. The correct course would have been to require service to be made under the FSIA, which in practice would have meant via diplomatic channels.

One response to “Case of the Day: Walters v. China”

  1. Update: I should have addressed a question about whether the FSIA’s service requirements apply to service of the documents at issue in this case. On the one hand, they are not a summons and complaint. On the other hand, they are the first documents served in an ancillary proceeding. It’s not clear to me without looking into it whether the FSIA applies. The Vienna Convention argument, however, seems strong.

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