Case of the Day: Jouanny v. Embassy of France
Posted on December 12, 2016
The case of the day is Jouanny v. Embassy of France (D.D.C. 2016). Annie Jouanny, a US citizen born in France, worked as a receptionist for the French embassy. She sued, alleging age discrimination in violation of the the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and retaliation after she filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The embassy moved to dismiss for insufficient service of process.
Jouanny had sent the summons and complaint to the “Embassy of France in the United States, Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” in Paris. Nevertheless, she claimed that she had complied with the Hague Service Convention. This is obviously incorrect. The proper thing to do is to send a request for service to the French Central Authority, namely, the Ministry of Justice. The court’s language is a little unfortunate. The judge wrote: “Plainitff here did not serve the Ministry of Justice; instead, she served the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” The language here runs the risk of suggesting that a plaintiff is supposed to serve process on the central authority. No. The plaintiff transmits the documents to the central authority, and the central authority, or an appropriate agency selected by the central authority, serves process on the defendant. So no one should misread this simple case to suggest that service is complete once the documents are sent to the central authority.
Jouanny, or rather her lawyer, sought to avoid the inevitable by arguing that the defendant’s lawyer “played coy and refused to accept service and also refused to provide a contact name at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” Come on! The contact information for the central authority is readily available, and there is no obligation to accept service. The lawyer should not be pointing to others to deflect blame for the screw-up. The judge, however, citing Barot, gave Jouanny an additional opportunity to effect service.