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Case of the Day: Jahanbin v. Rafieishad

The case of the day is Jahanbin v. Rafieishad (Ga. 2013). Jahanbin and Rafieishad, both Iranian nationals (Jahanbin also was a US national), married in Georgia in 2007. In 2011, Rafieishad began divorce proceedings against her husband, who then was in Iran, in the Fulton County Superior Court. After encountering difficulties in serving process, Rafieishad sought direction from the court, which entered an order instructing her to deliver the summons and complaint to the clerk, who was “directed to mail the correspondence” to Jahanbin in Tehran. The clerk, however, disregarded the order and handed the papers back to Rafieishad, instructing her to mail them herself, which she did. This was inconsistent with the literal language of the applicable Georgia rule, which, like FRCP 4(f)(2)(C)(ii), requires that the clerk address and dispatch the mail. The divorce case went to judgment, and Jahanbin moved to set aside the final judgment on the grounds that he had not validly been served with process. The judge denied his motion, and Jahanbin appealed.

On appeal, the court reversed and held that Jahanbin’s objection had merit. This is mindless formalism. Of course, parties should always strive to conform to applicable rules, and there are plenty of cases rejecting service under FRCP 4(f)(2)(C)(ii) where the party failed to request the clerk to mail the documents. Here, though, Rafieishad did everything right, and the clerk failed to follow the court’s order. Is there no argument that Rafieishad was acting as the clerk’s agent when she mailed the documents at the clerk’s direction? Is it sensible to reopen a divorce judgment on these grounds, where there does not appear to be any question about actual notice or prejudice?

Case of the Day: Shehadeh v. Alexander

The case of the day is Shehadeh v. Alexander (Ga. Ct. App. 2012). Abdel Karim Shehadeh, Mark Alexander, and others were parties to an operating agreement for Hydrajet Technology, LLC, a Georgia limited liability company. Shahadeh and Alexander entered into a separate agreement under which Shehadeh was to purchase Alexander’s interest in Hydrajet. Litigation over this second agreement resulted in a judgment of the Dubai Court of Appeals in favor of Alexander and against Shehadeh in the amount of $500,000. The Dubai judgment was later affirmed by the Dubai Court of Cassation.

Alexander sought recognition and enforcement of the judgment in Georgia. Shehadeh opposed recognition and enforcement on the grounds that the courts of Dubai did not recognize or enforce United States judgments. The trial court granted recognition and enforcement, but on appeal the court reversed.

Georgia has enacted the Uniform Foreign Money Judgments Recognition Act, but it adds one mandatory ground for non-recognition not found in the uniform statute. Under Georgia’s enactment of the statute, the judgment cannot be recognized if

The party seeking to enforce the judgment fails to demonstrate that judgments of courts of the United States and of states thereof of the same type and based on substantially similar jurisdictional grounds are recognized and enforced in the courts of the foreign state.

The court of appeals noted that Alexander had not given any evidence showing that the Dubai courts recognize US judgments. Evidence of impartiality, noted the court, was not enough: Alexander had to make an “affirmative evidentiary showing[] that the judgment is a product of a legal system that both recognizes and enforces the judgments of the federal and state courts of the United States.”

The statute says what it says, although I think courts should, if they can, read such statutes to require only evidence that the foreign court would recognize and enforce a US judgment in an appropriate case, not that the foreign court has recognized and enforced US judgments. Otherwise, the first judgment from a particular foreign court brought to the United States will necessarily fail to obtain recognition and enforcement, and that hardly sets the two states involved off on a road of comity and mutual respect! The statute itself is also subject to criticism and in my view should be amended or repealed. At most, it seems to me that reciprocity should be a discretionary ground for non-recognition. Prior to enactment of the UFMJRA, courts relied on the doctrine of comity, which was highly discretionary and which was flexible enough to avoid unfortunate outcomes like the outcome here, which, if I can make assumptions from the names of the party, harms only the US citizen who litigated a case abroad rather than trying to force his foreign opponent to litigate the merits in the United States.