International service of process is rife with questions and technicalities.
Oftentimes, there is confusion about which areas are considered “international” when serving US process.
Specifically, many attorneys approach LLS with questions about serving process on defendants who are located in “unincorporated, organized territories” of the US.
What is an “unincorporated” territory?
An unincorporated territory is a legal term of art and denotes a territory where fundamental rights apply as a matter of law, but other US constitutional rights are unavailable.
These locations include, but are not limited to:
- Puerto Rico – Located in the northeast Caribbean, just east of the Dominican Republic and Haiti and west of the Virgin Islands.
- Guam – Located in the Pacific Ocean, a scant 1500 miles from the Philippines but 6000 miles from California. Guam is “Where America’s day begins” because of its location west of the international dateline.
- US Virgin Islands – Tiny islands (twice the size of Washington, D.C.) in the Atlantic Ocean, about 40 miles east of Puerto Rico.
- Northern Mariana Islands – A group of islands in the Pacific Ocean, 125 miles north of Guam.
- American Samoa – One of only two US possessions located in the south Pacific, in Oceania, with a total land area of 76 square miles.
- Wake Island – Also known as Wake Atoll, it is a coral atoll and, unlike the above, is an “unorganized” territory of the US administered by the US Department of the Interior. There are about 150 people living in its three square miles.
While it is clear that defendants located in these territories will not be served within the “United States,” per se, they are located within lands controlled by the US. All territories under the control of the federal government are considered part of the “United States” for legal purposes. See 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(36) and (a)(38) (defining what constitutes the “United States”).
Therefore, service upon defendants within unincorporated territories cannot be considered international service of process.
Does the Hague Service Convention apply in these territories?
No, the Hague Service Convention does not apply to service of process in unincorporated US territories.
Accordingly, US litigants do not have to seek guidance from or follow the procedures of any international treaty or convention, such as the Hague Service Convention, to effect service upon such defendants.
Rather, such defendants should be served pursuant to the normal service of process rules that govern defendants located outside the particular US forum, as well as the operative rules and procedures at play in the location where the defendant is to be served.
For example, if you have a case that is pending in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York involving a defendant who resides in the US Virgin Islands, you should look to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for guidance on how such a defendant should be served with process, along with any specific local rules that speak to this issue.
In this specific scenario, service upon the defendant residing in the US Virgin Islands would be made pursuant to F.R.C.P. 4. Additional guidance can also be found in Rule 27 of the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands, the latter of which states the following:
Rule 27. Service of process; by whom and how served
(a) Service of all process shall be made in any part of the territory by the marshal of the court and such other persons authorized by law to serve such process, or such other officers or persons designated by the court. The persons so designated shall receive in payment for their services the statutory fees allowed therefor.
(b) The summons and process shall be served in the same manner as required to be served by Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, provided, however, that reference in the said Rule to “United States Marshal or Deputy United States Marshal” shall be read instead “Marshall or Deputy Marshal of the Territorial Court of the Virgin Islands”, and that all references to “United States or any officer or agency of the United States” shall be read instead “Virgin Islands or any officer or agency of the Virgin Islands.”
Service of process in US territories is simply an extension of domestic service of process and is not subject to any special procedures or rules that would otherwise apply to defendants that are truly outside the US courts’ jurisdictional reach. For the sake of accuracy, US litigants should, however, be mindful of any local rules that might require special procedures.
If you need to service process with the US and/or its territories, contact Legal Language to learn how our professional linguists and experienced attorneys can help you.