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Case of the Day: NorthShore Regional Medical Center v. Dill

The case of the day is NorthShore Regional Medical Center, LLC v. Dill (La. Ct. App. 2013). Brian and Edith Dill, who live in England, were vacationing in south Louisiana in 2006. They had purchased a travel insurance policy from Atlas (Atlas later asserted that it was not the insurer, but rather just the broker for White Horse Insurance Ireland, Ltd.). During the vacation, Mrs. Dill became ill and required emergency surgery. Global Express Management, Inc., apparently the insurer’s claim administrator, represented to NorthShore, “on behalf of the underwriter,” that Dill was covered “under a valid medical emergency policy” with a “60% discount” benefit rate. Ultimately Dill was hospitalized for two months, including for about two weeks after the expiration of her policy. The hospital’s total bill was $1.25 million, which must have been an unhappy surprise to the Dills, who presumably were used to the NHS. NorthShore had received about $300,000. NorthShore sued the Dills, Atlas, and Global Excel for the balance.

The issue in today’s case was service of process on Atlas, whose offices were in London. NorthShore apparently requested the clerk to transmit a request for service to the UK central authority under Article 5 of the Hague Service Convention, and it received a certificate from the central authority under Article 6 stating that service had been effected. Atlas did not answer the complaint, 1 instead sending a letter to NorthShore requesting that NorthShore drop the case on the grounds that Atlas was merely the broker and had no liability. Ultimately NorthShore obtained a default judgment against Atlas for more than $750,000. Atlas unsuccessfully sought to vacate the judgment, and it then appealed.

The opinion doesn’t spell out Atlas’s objections to the method of service beyond saying that Atlas claimed that “NorthShore failed to follow the strict mandates for service abroad pursuant to the Hague Convention.” But whatever the objections were, they wouldn’t have mattered: the court gave a very clear statement of the effect of an Article 6 certificate from a foreign central authority: it’s more or less conclusive in the absence of a showing of lack of actual notice or prejudice:

Several federal and out-of-state court decisions have held that the return of a completed certificate of service by a Central Authority is prima facie evidence that the service was made in accordance with Hague Convention procedures.

Had the service on Atlas been inadequate in any material respect, the Central authority undoubtedly would have complied with its duty to promptly inform NorthShore and specify its objections to NorthShore’s service requests. By not objecting to the documents and by certifying service, the Central Authority indicated that the documents complied with the Hague Convention. 2 We decline to look beyond the certificate of service, especially since Atlas has not shown a lack of actual notice of the lawsuit or that it was prejudiced in some way.

Notes:

  1. I should note that Louisiana civil procedure differs in important ways from civil procedure elsewhere in the United States, because Louisiana is a civil law jurisdiction, not a common law jurisdiction. I don’t make an attempt to use Louisiana terminology or to accurately describe the procedure there.
  2. Letters Blogatory comment: I think this sentence is the one sour note here. It seems to me that whether the “documents,” i.e., the request for service, complied with the Convention is neither here nor there. Once the Central Authority serves them, the question is whether its method of service complied with the relevant foreign law. But this is a small point.