Case of the Day: Chembulk Houston v. M/V Monte Alegre
Posted on August 15, 2018
The case of the day is Chembulk Houston Pte. Ltd. v. M/V Monte Alegre (S.D. Tex. 2018). Chembulk had won a judgment against German defendants. The question was whether the $1,425 the plaintiff incurred in serving process via the Hague Service Convention was taxable as costs. Why so much? Well, the plaintiff had hired a vendor.
The court noted that in the Fifth Circuit, the costs of a private process server “are not recoverable absent a showing of exceptional circumstances.” Chembulk argued that it faced exceptional circumstances because the defendants required it to serve process via the Convention rather than volunteering to accept service in some other way, but that argument seems obviously wrong. The court rejected the attempt to tax any of the $1,425 as costs on the grounds that the Convention does not require the use of a private process server.
I love this case because it lines up with one of my long-running themes here on Letters Blogatory: you can often do it yourself for less than the vendor wants to charge! Now, you may say, “it would cost my client more than $1,425 for me to fill out the Request for Service form.” That may be true. But this gets at another one of my themes: parts though not all of the form require the exercise of legal judgment and should not be completed by vendors in any case. So if you’re doing it right, you are still going to have to spend some time working on the form even if you hire a vendor.
That said, I do think the judge missed one point here. The costs included $525 in translation costs. When you are serving process under the Convention, you sometimes are required to translate the documents served. There may be a statutory argument about whether US law does or does not allow those costs to be taxed. But the judge’s rationale for disallowing the vendor’s costs doesn’t really appy to the costs of translation.