May 22, 2017

Supreme Court Decides Water Splash, Inc. v. Menon

On May 22, 2017, the Supreme Court decided Water Splash, Inc. v. Menon, No. 16-254. The Court held that the Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil and Commercial Matters (Hague Service Convention) does not prohibit service by mail.

Water Splash sued its former employee Menon, alleging that she had begun working for a competitor while still employed at Water Splash. Menon resided in Canada, and Water Splash sought and obtained permission to effect service by mail on Menon. The trial court entered a default judgment in favor of Water Splash after Menon declined to answer or enter an appearance. Menon appealed, and the Texas Court of Appeals, in a divided opinion, held that the Convention prohibits service of process of mail. The Texas Supreme Court denied discretionary review. Resolving a Circuit conflict, the Supreme Court held that the Hague Convention does not prohibit service by mail. 

The Court began by noting that the purpose of the Hague Convention is to “simplify, standardize, and generally improve the process of serving documents abroad.” At issue was Article 10(a) which states that “[p]rovided the State of destination does not object, the present Convention shall not interfere with . . . the freedom to send judicial documents, by postal channels, directly to persons abroad.” The Court reasoned that the text and structure of the Convention “strongly suggest” that Article 10(a) applies to service of documents. The Court rejected Menon’s argument that “send judicial documents” should be read more narrowly not to encompass service of process. At most, the language is ambiguous, and extratextual sources including the history of the treaty, negotiations, and other interpretations “unmistakably demonstrate that Article 10(a) encompasses service by mail.” The Court clarified, however, that it was not deciding that the Convention authorizes service by mail—“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.” With this guidance, the Court vacated the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded for further proceedings.

Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by all other Members of the Court except Justice Gorsuch who took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

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