Plaintiff, Elizabeth Chung, is suing her mother-in-law, Chung Peng Chih-Mei, a resident of Taiwan, and Intertrust Limited, a Bahamas Corporation, claiming that her estranged husband, David Chung, had put assets into his mother’s name to avoid tax liability and to block Elizabeth from asserting her rights to the property. Elizabeth seeks permission to serve her MIL by an alternative means. Her request is granted.
Elizabeth had obtained her MIL’s address in Taiwan from her husband in the discovery process in their divorce proceeding in California. She then sent process to be served on the MIL by delivery to the MIL’s doorman in Taiwan. The doorman accepted the service package, and confirmed that the MIL was a resident. Elizabeth then sent a follow-up service package by postal mail, but the mail was returned, claiming that the MIL did not reside at the address.
Under FRCP 4(f), service can be made “by other means not prohibited by international agreement, as the court orders.” There is no international agreement (i.e., treaty) between the U.S. and Taiwan as to service. The court acknowledges that FRCP 4(f)(3) is not a last resort for serving a party, and a Plaintiff need not show that “all feasible service alternatives have been exhausted” before seeking relief under 4(f)(3). The method of service Elizabeth is requesting is to serve the MIL’s grandson by email (apparently the husband had sent the grandson legal documents for the MIL to execute in the past, at that precise email address), and for issuance of a letters rogatory for service. The court granted Elizabeth’s motion. The court’s order is something practitioners may want to emulate in a proposed order in a similar situation: it gives a step-by-step outline for precisely what Elizabeth is to do to service the MIL. It gives a mandate that an email be sent to X email address by her counsel, that the counsel must attach English and Chinese versions of the summons and complaint, and even included verbatim language that the counsel must include in the email in English and Chinese. The court also ordered that copies of the email be sent to the Husband’s lawyer in this case, and the Husband’s lawyer in the divorce case.