Case of the Day: Resorts World v. Chan

The case of the day is Resorts World at Sentosa Pte Ltd. v. Chan (D. Hawaii 2016). Resorts World sued Chan in the Singapore High Court on a debt. The Singaporean court entered judgment for Resorts World for $882,644. Resorts World brought an action for recognition and enforcement in Hawaii. Chan moved to dismiss for insufficient service of process. She also asserted that the Singapore judgment was void because she had not properly been served with process in that proceeding, and that the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction.

On the validity of the Singaporean judgment, the court held that the service was valid. The judge noted that she had been served by publication in two Hong Kong newspapers and by mail to her address in Hong Kong. Okay.

But then on the validity of the service in the Hawaii action, the judge refused to credit affidavits from people claiming to know that Chan did not live at the address in Hawaii where the service was effected, holding that her US passport and the fact that she owned the single-family home in Hawaii where the process was served was sufficient. It’s difficult to see how both holdings can be right, since in neither case was Chan personally served. In both case, in other words, the service was held sufficient because it was made at Chan’s residence!

By the same token, it doesn’t seem to me that the court took the issue of subject-matter jurisdiction seriously enough. Chan’s argument was that she was a US citizen residing abroad. If so, then the court lacks jurisdiction, because there is no diversity jurisdiction where one of the parties is a US citizen with a foreign domicile (since such a person is not an alien and is not a citizen of any state of the United States for the relevant purposes). If the court had subject-matter jurisdiction, then Chan must have been domiciled in Hawaii, which makes it difficult to see how the service of process in Hong Kong in the Singaporean action was sufficient.

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