The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (the “FRCP”) provide the common process in which an individual may serve another party. The FRCP provides means to achieve proper service of process of an individual located outside of the United States, which differs from serving a national defendant. The FRCP allows a party, in serving an international party, to take measures such as “any internationally agreed means of service that is reasonably calculated to give notice,” “as prescribed by the foreign country’s law for service in that country in an action in its courts of general jurisdiction,” “as the foreign authority directs in response to a letter rogatory or letter of request,” and more. Rule 4(h) provides further for service of process of an international corporation. The Hague Convention has been widely regarded as the as a primary organization to utilize to serve an international party.
While the FRCP rule dictating service of process appears to list a wide range of methods to serve an international party, serving an individual in a different country can raise difficulty in practice, and challenges in doing so have increased. Delays in services of process are common as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, fashioning conditions where serving a party in another country is nearly impossible. It can be ambiguous on how to conduct international service where the methods listed in FRCP Rule 4 have been exhausted.
In Group One Ltd. V. GTE GmbH et al.,a recent decision in the Second Circuit, the court weighed in on the issue of international service and reaffirmed prior decisions that the Hague Convention is not the only means one can pursue to successfully serve a foreign party. The court agrees that FRCP Rule 4 controls service of process, however it does not create a hierarchy on the best or most preferable means to serve a foreign defendant. Additionally, it is established that means listed in Rule 4(f) need not be exhausted prior to seeking permission allowing alternative service from the court.
This decision also deliberates E-mail as an alternate means for service under FRCP Rule 4, and the court authorizes this method to serve foreign defendants.  It is required that the service is likely to reach the defendant in order to comport with due process, and E-mail service is valid in order to satisfy this requirement.  More surprisingly, the court decides that E-mail service may be the most reliable and efficient method to accomplish service, as “[a]lthough emails may get lost in a defendant’s spam folder, compared to postal mail, emails are more reliable.
The pandemic and its global effect has contributed to widespread delays in service of process. While ordinary and anticipated delays will arise while serving a foreign party even in the absence of a global pandemic, the courts do not aim to make serving a foreign party impossible by restricting alternative means to precedent or the plain language of FRCP Rule 4. Today, we are observing courts strive to put plaintiffs serving foreign parties at ease by interpreting service of process rules in a way that takes into account the current state of the world today.
During a time where the pandemic is triggering delays in all realms of everyday life, and the growing age of technology and communication via E-mail, the courts in many jurisdictions have encouraged plaintiffs to use E-mail as an alternative method of service.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(f)
Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(h)
Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters, art. 1, Nov. 15 1965, 20 U.S.T. 361, The Hauge Convention
523 F.Supp 3d 323 (E.D.N.Y., 2021)
Id. at 341
Id. at 341
Id. at 344
Id. at 345