486 U.S. 694 (1988), 86-1052, Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft v. Schlunk

Docket Nº:No. 86-1052
Citation:486 U.S. 694, 108 S.Ct. 2104, 100 L.Ed.2d 722, 56 U.S.L.W. 4595
Party Name:Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft v. Schlunk
Case Date:June 15, 1988
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 694

486 U.S. 694 (1988)

108 S.Ct. 2104, 100 L.Ed.2d 722, 56 U.S.L.W. 4595

Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft

v.

Schlunk

No. 86-1052

United States Supreme Court

June 15, 1988

Argued March 21, 1988

CERTIORARI TO THE APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, FIRST

DISTRICT

Syllabus

After his parents were killed in an automobile accident, respondent filed a wrongful death action in an Illinois court, alleging that defects in the automobile designed and sold by Volkswagen of America, Inc. (VWoA), in which the parents were driving, caused or contributed to their deaths. When VWoA's answer denied that it had designed or assembled the vehicle, respondent amended his complaint to add as a defendant petitioner here (VWAG), a German corporation which is the sole owner of VWoA. Respondent attempted to serve the amended complaint on VWAG by serving VWoA as VWAG's agent. Filing a special and limited appearance, VWAG moved to quash the service on the grounds that it could be served only in accordance with the Hague Service Convention, and that respondent had not complied with the Convention's requirements. The court denied the motion, reasoning that VWoA and VWAG are so closely related that VWoA is VWAG's agent for service of process as a matter of law, notwithstanding VWAG's failure or refusal to appoint VWoA formally as an agent. The court concluded that, because service was accomplished in this country, the Convention did not apply. The Appellate Court of Illinois affirmed, ruling that the Illinois long-arm statute authorized substituted service on VWoA, and that such service did not violate the Convention.

Held: The Hague Service Convention does not apply when process is served on a foreign corporation by serving its domestic subsidiary which, under state law, is the foreign corporation's involuntary agent for service. Pp. 698-708.

(a) The service of process in this case is not covered by Article I of the Convention, which provides that the Convention "shall apply . . . where there is occasion to transmit a judicial . . . document for service abroad." "Service" means a formal delivery of documents that is legally sufficient to charge the defendant with notice of a pending action. Since the Convention does not itself prescribe a standard for determining the legal sufficiency of the delivery, the internal law of the forum state controls. Thus, where, as here, the forum state's law does not define the applicable method of serving process as requiring the transmittal of documents

Page 695

abroad, the Convention does not apply. This interpretation is consistent with the negotiating history and the general purposes of the Convention. One purpose of the Convention is to provide means to facilitate service of process abroad. The Convention implements this purpose by requiring each state [108 S.Ct. 2106] to establish a central authority to assist in the service of process, and nothing in the present decision interferes with that requirement. Another purpose of the Convention is to assure foreign defendants adequate notice. The present decision does not necessarily advance this purpose, because it makes application of the Convention depend on the forum's internal law; however, it is unlikely that any country will draft its internal laws deliberately so as to circumvent the Convention in cases in which it would be appropriate to transmit judicial documents for service abroad. Furthermore, this decision does not prevent voluntary compliance with the Convention even when the forum's internal law does not so require, and such compliance can be advantageous. Pp. 698-706.

(b) VWAG's contention that service upon it was not complete until VWoA transmitted the complaint to it in Germany, and that this transmission "for service abroad" rendered the Convention applicable to the case under Article I, is without merit. Where, as here, service on a domestic agent is valid and complete under both state law and the Due Process Clause without an official transmission of documents abroad, the inquiry ends and the Convention has no further implications. Pp. 706-708.

145 Ill.App.3d 594, 503 N.E.2d 1045, affirmed.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, STEVENS, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 708.

Page 696

O'CONNOR, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves an attempt to serve process on a foreign corporation by serving its domestic subsidiary which, under state law, is the foreign corporation's involuntary agent for service of process. We must decide whether such service is compatible with the Convention on Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil and Commercial Matters, Nov. 15, 1965 (Hague Service Convention), [1969] 20 U.S.T. 361, T.I.A.S. No. 6638.

I

The parents of respondent Herwig Schlunk were killed in an automobile accident in 1983. Schlunk filed a wrongful death action on their behalf in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. Schlunk alleged that Volkswagen of America, Inc. (VWoA), had designed and sold the automobile that his parents were driving, and that defects in the automobile caused or contributed to their deaths. Schlunk also alleged that the driver of the other automobile involved in the collision was negligent; Schlunk has since obtained a default judgment against that person, who is no longer a party to this lawsuit. Schlunk successfully served his complaint on VWoA, and VWoA filed an answer denying that it had designed or assembled the automobile in question. Schlunk then amended the complaint to add as a defendant Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft (VWAG), which is the petitioner

Page 697

here. VWAG, a corporation established under the laws of the Federal Republic of Germany, has its place of business in that country. VWoA is a wholly owned subsidiary of VWAG. Schlunk attempted to serve his amended complaint on VWAG by serving VWoA as VWAG's agent.

VWAG filed a special and limited appearance for the purpose of quashing service. VWAG asserted that it could be served only in accordance with the Hague Service [108 S.Ct. 2107] Convention, and that Schlunk had not complied with the Convention's requirements. The Circuit Court denied VWAG's motion. It first observed that VWoA is registered to do business in Illinois and has a registered agent for receipt of process in Illinois. The court then reasoned that VWoA and VWAG are so closely related that VWoA is VWAG's agent for service of process as a matter of law, notwithstanding VWAG's failure or refusal to appoint VWoA formally as an agent. The court relied on the facts that VWoA is a wholly owned subsidiary of VWAG, that a majority of the members of the board of directors of VWoA are members of the board of VWAG, and that VWoA is by contract the exclusive importer and distributor of VWAG products sold in the United States. The court concluded that, because service was accomplished within the United States, the Hague Service Convention did not apply.

The Circuit Court certified two questions to the Appellate Court of Illinois. For reasons similar to those given by the Circuit Court, the Appellate Court determined that VWoA is VWAG's agent for service of process under Illinois law, and that the service of process in this case did not violate the Hague Service Convention. 145 Ill.App.3d 594, 503 N.E.2d 1045 (1986). After the Supreme Court of Illinois denied VWAG leave to appeal, 112 Ill.2d 595 (1986), VWAG petitioned this Court for a writ of certiorari to review the Appellate Court's interpretation of the Hague Service Convention. We granted certiorari to address this issue, 484 U.S. 895 (1987), which has given rise to disagreement among the lower

Page 698

courts. Compare Ex parte Volkswagenwerk A.G., 443 So.2d 880, 881 (Ala.1983) (holding that the Hague Service Convention does not apply if a foreign national is served properly through its agent in this country); Zisman v. Sieger, 106 F.R.D.194, 199-200 (ND Ill.1985) (same); Lamb v. Volkswagenwerk A.G., 104 F.R.D. 95, 97 (SD Fla.1985) (same); McHugh v. International Components Corp., 118 Misc.2d 489, 491-492, 461 N.Y.S.2d 166, 167-168 (1983) (same), with Cippolla v. Picard Porsche Audi, Inc., 496 A.2d 130, 131-132 (R. I.1985) (holding that the Hague Service Convention is the exclusive means of serving a foreign corporation); Wingert v. Volkswagenwerk A.G., Civ. Action Nos. 3:86-2994-16 and 3:86-2995-16 (S.C. May 19, 1987), slip op. at 3-4 (same).

II

The Hague Service Convention is a multilateral treaty that was formulated in 1964 by the Tenth Session of the Hague Conference of Private International Law. The Convention revised parts of the Hague Conventions on Civil Procedure of 1905 and 1954. The revision was intended to provide a simpler way to serve process abroad, to assure that defendants sued in foreign jurisdictions would receive actual and timely notice of suit, and to facilitate proof of service abroad. 3 1964 Conference de la Haye de Droit International Prive, Actes et Documents de la Dixieme Session (Notification) 75-77, 363 (1965) (3 Actes et Documents); 1 B. Ristau, International Judicial Assistance (Civil and Commercial) § 4-1 (1984 and 1 Supp.1986) (1 Ristau). Representatives of all 23 countries that were members of the Conference approved the Convention without reservation. Thirty-two countries, including the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany, have ratified or acceded to the Convention. Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 2, n. 2 (filed Sep. 12, 1987).

The primary innovation of the Convention is that it requires each state to establish a central authority to receive requests for service of documents from other countries. 20

Page 699

U.S.T. 362, T.I.A.S. 6638, Art. 2. Once a central authority receives a...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP