Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Service of a Complaint by E-mail

Service of a Complaint by E-mail

      In a recent decision from the Federal District Court in Washington state, it considered and, in part, allowed the plaintiff to serve the complaint on certain Chinese based companies and individuals via email and through their respective Amazon storefronts. However, finding that the plaintiff had taken insufficient efforts to serve certain other defendants, the motion to serve them via email was denied. Rubie’s Costume Company, Inc. v. Yiwu Hua Hao Toys Co., Ltd., Case No. 2:18-CV-01530-RAJ, 2019 WL 6310564 (W.D. Wa. Nov. 25, 2019). 

      Rubie’s developed and holds the copyright on a “highly-recognizable and very popular full-body Inflatable T-Rex costume.” In this lawsuit, they allege that the defendants were creating knockoffs of that copyrighted intellectual property, selling the infringing costumes through an Amazon seller account. Rubie’s filed its complaint against numerous defendants, and then began efforts to effect service of process on each defendant. In the course thereof, they were able to obtain certain information from Amazon, but when they attempted to effect service of the complaint, they were unable to find the relevant individual “suggesting that Defendants provided false addresses to Amazon.” From that circumstance, the plaintiff asked the court for its permission to serve the defendants with the complaint and summons by email. 

      The court, in its analysis, reviewed the rules for effecting service of process other than by the traditional hand delivery or registered mail, and as well reviewed China's participation in the Hague Convention. The court noted a significant number of decisions allowing, on particular facts and circumstances, service on residents of China by email. On the facts of this case, the court denied the effort to make service of process by email on the basis that (so would appear from the complaint) that efforts to effect service via the Hague Convention had not yet been undertaken. However, with respect to defendants where the physical addresses were false or could not be ascertained, service was authorized by email and through the relevant Amazon seller account.

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