Legal service process different overseas

Service is a process indicating that a defendant or respondent in a case has been given reasonable notice of the court proceeding and provided an opportunity to appear and present their case. Service is required in civil court cases. Each state and federal court has its own rules on how a person can be served. Some rules require a sheriff or peace officer to serve an individual, while others may allow a hired process server or service by certified mail. Plaintiffs normally cannot proceed with a case until adequate service is accomplished.

Service internationally is more complicated. The U.S. and Germany (and various other European countries) are signatories to the Hague Convention of Nov. 15, 1965 on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extra-Judicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters, a.k.a the Hague Service Convention (HSC). The HSC addresses service of process across international borders. Under the U.S. Constitution Supremacy Clause, regardless of the local rules, if service does not conform to the provisions of HSC, it is improper and a court order stemming from that case is voidable.

Compliance with the HSC for service in Germany requires a certified court filing and a German translation before transferring the packet for service. Packets are mailed to a Central Agency with the German “Land” (state) affected to achieve service of process.

Plaintiffs attempt other means of service, whether it is purposefully in violation of or unaware of the HSC. While a defendant is free to waive HSC service requirement, if there is no waiver, service is not allowed by certified or regular mail through APO system or Deutsche Post. Service is also prohibited by handing the defendant the packet or having someone else deliver the packet. U.S. military installations in Europe are not “U.S. soil” locations exempt from HSC. Under AR 27-40, U.S. military and legal office personnel are not permitted to assist in service of process attempts that do not comply with HSC and the NATO SOFA. If assistance is provided, that individual may be punished under German law.

Most importantly, non-HSC service attempts are improper and subject to dismissal. If you are served with legal papers by any means, whether through the Legal Office or by mail or in person, you should immediately consult with a lawyer regarding your rights and responsibilities.