Case of the Day: Baek v. Radish Media

The case of the day is Baek v. Radish Media, Inc. (C.D. Cal. 2018). Radish “provides a meeting place for fiction readers seeking unique content and writers with fresh voices on human issues looking to reach people outside of the traditional publishing house model.” I’m not sure what this means, but it sounds a bit like the Manutius publishing house from Foucault’s Pendulum. Anyway, Paul Baek sued Seung Yoon Lee, a South Korean resident, who was the CEO of Radish, apparently for wrongful termination, though the claim isn’t entirely clear. Baek brought his claim in the California state court. Baek served process by mailing the summons to Radish’s office in New York. The defendants then removed the case to federal court, and Lee moved to dismiss for insufficient service of process.

The court quashed the service. Its discussion is confused. The decision seems to suggest that the service was bad because Baek had to serve process under the Hague Service Convention. But this is to suggest that the Convention is (in the parlance of the Hague Conference) mandatory. In fact, it is exclusive but non-mandatory: it applies only when the summons is to be transmitted abroad. Here, the summons was not transmitted abroad, so the real question is whether the service was sufficient under California law—a question the judge doesn’t really address.

In other words: you can say that service is bad because it violates the Convention if the plaintiff attempted to send the summons abroad in a forbidden way, but not if the plaintiff attempted to serve the defendant by delivering the summons to some recipient in the United States. The Convention has to do with the place where the service is made, not the place where the defendant resides or is found.

All this said, it may well be that the decision is correct. It’s not clear that California law would allow service on a foreign national by delivering the documents to the US office of a business with which he’s associated but that is (apparently) not his usual place of business.

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