(CN) – Settling a question that has divided state and federal courts for decades, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Hague Service Convention allows the service of process by mail in legal disputes involving international parties.
The case in question, Water Splash, Inc. v. Menon, came to the court from Texas.
Tara Menon, a Canadian residing in Quebec, was employed by Water Splash Inc., of Galveston, Texas, as a regional sales representative.
In 2012, the company says it discovered that she was also working as a sales manager for South Pool, a competitor, and had used some of Water Splash’s designs and drawings on its behalf in bidding on a municipal project at two Galveston city parks.
In 2013, Water Splash sued South Pool and Menon in a Texas court for unfair competition, conversion, tortious interference with business relations, and conspiracy.
To carry out service of the lawsuit to Menon, Water Splash asked the trial court to order service on Menon in Canada, by “first class mail, certified mail, and Federal Express to Menon’s address” and “by email to each of Menon’s known email addresses.” The trial court granted the motion.
As recounted in court documents, Menon did not answer the complaint, and the trial court granted a default judgment in favor of Water Splash, awarding the company actual and exemplary damages and attorney’s fees.
Menon then filed a motion for a new trial seeking to set aside the judgment on the grounds that it was not carried out to the terms of the Hague Service Convention. The court denied Menon’s motion for new trial.
Menon then turned to the Texas 14th District Court of Appeals, which overturned the trial court’s ruling and remanded the case for further proceedings.
But in a dissent, Justice Tracy Christopher said the majority failed to follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s directions on the construction of treaties and the Texas Supreme Court’s instructions on the correct approach to decisions of the federal courts.
“Because Texas intermediate appellate courts are bound by these authorities, I instead would follow their precepts, which lead to the conclusion that service by mail to a litigant in Canada is permitted under Article 10(a) of the Service Convention,” Christopher wrote. “I accordingly would affirm.”
Water Splash appealed the 14th District Court of Appeals’ ruling, and the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in its favor on Monday.
“The traditional tools of treaty interpretation unmistakably demonstrate that Article 10(a) encompasses service by mail. To be clear, this does not mean that the Convention affirmatively authorizes service by mail. Article 10(a) simply provides that, as long as the receiving state does not object, the Convention does not ‘interfere with . . . the freedom’ to serve documents through postal channels,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court. (Emphasis in original.)
The nation’s high court vacated the Texas appeals court’s decision and remanded the case.
“In cases governed by the Hague Service Convention, service by mail is permissible if two conditions are met: first, the receiving state has not objected to service by mail; and second, service by mail is authorized under otherwise-applicable law,” Alito wrote. “Because the Court of Appeals concluded that the Convention prohibited service by mail outright, it had no occasion to consider whether Texas law authorizes the methods of service used by Water Splash.”
All other justices joined Alito’s opinion except for newcomer Justice Neil Gorsuch, who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.