Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft v. Schlunk
Annotate this Case
486 U.S. 694 (1988)
U.S. Supreme Court
Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft v. Schlunk, 486 U.S. 694 (1988)
Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft v. Schlunk
Argued March 21, 1988
Decided June 15, 1988
486 U.S. 694
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. 486 U. S. 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
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 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. 486 U. S. 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. 486 U. S. 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. 486 U. S. 708.
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