Water Splash, Inc. v. Menon,
581 U.S. ___ (2017)

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Justia Opinion Summary

Water Splash sued Menon, a former employee, in Texas state court. Because Menon resided in Canada, Water Splash obtained permission to effect service by mail. Menon declined to answer or enter an appearance. The trial court issued a default judgment. Menon argued that service by mail was impermissible under the Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil and Commercial Matters (Hague Service Convention). Vacating a Texas Court of Appeals decision in Menon’s favor, the Supreme Court held that the Convention does not prohibit service of process by mail. Article 10(a) uses the term “judicial documents” and the ordinary meaning of the word “send” is broad enough to cover the transmission of any judicial documents. The Convention’s drafting history strongly suggests that the drafters understood that service by postal channels was permissible; in the half-century since the Convention was adopted, the Executive Branch has consistently maintained that it allows service by mail. Other Convention signatories have consistently adopted that view. That Article 10(a) encompasses service by mail does not mean that it affirmatively authorizes such service; service by mail is permissible if the receiving state has not objected to service by mail and if such service is authorized under other applicable laws.

  • Syllabus  | 
  • Opinion (Samuel A. Alito, Jr.)

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321 .

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

WATER SPLASH, INC. v. MENON

certiorari to the court of appeals of texas, fourteenth district

No. 16–254. Argued March 22, 2017—Decided May 22, 2017

Petitioner Water Splash sued respondent Menon, a former employee, in a Texas state court, alleging that she had begun working for a competitor while still employed by Water Splash. Because Menon resided in Canada, Water Splash obtained permission to effect service by mail. After Menon declined to answer or otherwise enter an appearance, the trial court issued a default judgment for Water Splash. That court subsequently denied Menon’s motion to set aside the judgment on the ground that she had not been properly served. On appeal, Menon argued that service by mail does not comport with the requirements of the Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil and Commercial Matters (Hague Service Convention), which seeks to simplify, standardize, and generally improve the process of serving documents abroad, specifying certain approved methods of service and preempting “inconsistent methods of service” wherever it applies, Volkswagenwerk Aktiengesellschaft v. Schlunk, 486 U. S. 694 . The Texas Court of Appeals agreed with Menon, holding that the Convention prohibited service of process by mail. Article 10, the provision at issue, consists of Articles 10(b) and 10(c), which plainly address permissible methods of “service,” and Article 10(a), which provides that the Convention will not interfere with “the freedom to send judicial documents, by postal channels, directly to persons abroad,” but does not expressly refer to “service.”

Held: The Hague Service Convention does not prohibit service of process by mail. Pp. 4–12.

(a) This Court begins its analysis by looking to the treaty’s text and the context in which its words are used. See Schlunk, 486 U. S., at 699. The key word in Article 10(a)—“send”—is a broad term, and there is no apparent reason why it would exclude the transmission of documents for the purpose of service. The structure of the Convention strongly counsels against such an exclusion. The Convention’s preamble and Article 1 limit the scope of the Convention to service of documents abroad, and its full title includes the phrase “Service Abroad.” This Court has also held that the scope of the Convention is limited to service of documents. Id., at 701. It would thus be quite strange if Article 10(a)—apparently alone among the Convention’s provisions—concerned something other than service of documents. Indeed, such a reading would render Article 10(a) superfluous. Article 10’s function is to ensure that, generally, the Convention “shall not interfere” with the activities described in 10(a), 10(b), and 10(c). But since Article 1 already “eliminates [the] possibility” that the Convention would apply to any communications that “do not culminate in service,” id., at 701, in order for Article 10(a) to do any work, it must pertain to sending documents for the purposes of service. Menon’s attempt to avoid this superfluity problem by suggesting that Article 10(a) applies not to service of process but only to the service of “post-answer judicial documents” lacks any plausible textual footing in Article 10. If the drafters wished to limit Article 10(a) to a particular subset of documents, they could have said so—as they did, e.g., in Article 15, which refers to “a writ of summons or an equivalent document.” Instead, Article 10(a) uses the term “judicial documents”—the same term featured in 10(b) and 10(c). And the ordinary meaning of the word “send” is broad enough to cover the transmission of any judicial documents. Accordingly, the text and structure of the Convention indicate that Article 10(a) encompasses service by mail. Pp. 4–6.

(b) The main counterargument—that Article 10(a)’s phrase “send judicial documents” should mean something different than the phrase “effect service of judicial documents” in Article 10(b) and Article 10(c)—is unpersuasive. First, it must contend with the compelling structural considerations strongly suggesting that Article 10(a) pertains to service of documents. Second, reading the word “send” as a broad concept that includes, but is not limited to, service is probably more plausible than interpreting the word to exclude service, and it does not create the same superfluity problem. Third, the French version of the Convention, which is “equally authentic” to the English version, Schlunk, supra, at 699, uses the word “adresser,” which has consistently been understood to mean service or notice. At best, Menon’s argument creates an ambiguity as to Article 10(a)’s meaning. The Court thus turns to additional tools of treaty interpretation, which comfortably resolve any lingering ambiguity in Water Splash’s favor. Pp. 7–8.

(c) Three extratextual sources are especially helpful in ascertaining Article 10(a)’s meaning. First, the Convention’s drafting history strongly suggests that the drafters understood that service by postal channels was permissible. Second, in the half-century since the Convention was adopted, the Executive Branch has consistently maintained that the Hague Service Convention allows service by mail. Finally, other signatories to the Convention have consistently adopted Water Splash’s view. Pp. 8–12.

(d) The fact that Article 10(a) encompasses service by mail does not mean that it affirmatively authorizes such service. Rather, service by mail is permissible if the receiving state has not objected to service by mail and if such service is authorized under otherwise-applicable law. Because the Court of Appeals concluded that the Convention prohibited service by mail, it did not consider whether Texas law authorizes the methods of service used by Water Splash. That and any other remaining issues are left to be considered on remand to the extent they are properly preserved. P. 12.

472 S. W. 3d 28, vacated and remanded.

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

Primary Holding

Under the Hague Service Convention, service by mail is permissible if it is authorized under applicable laws and if the receiving state has not objected to such service.

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