International service of lawsuits via email is an option when the physical address of an international defendant is unknown. According to the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad (Hague Convention), when the physical address is unknown the Hague Convention does not apply. In practice, as long as the email address does not return an undeliverable notification, service by email may be effectuated on an international defendant.
The Federal Rule of Civil Procedures allows for the service of foreign individuals either by international agreed means of service to give notice, pursuant to the Hague Convention on serving Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters. In the absence of an agreement, Rule 4(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure service can be done through letters rogatory. Furthermore, a person can be served by mail provided there is a return receipt.
The nuance of the internet age has dawned a clever means to achieve international service of lawsuits via email service that is not prohibited by international law. The District Court in Northern California ventured in Goes International, AB v. Dodur, Ltd, to determine service by email. As it did it delved in the issues of the need to know the physical addresses of the defendant, the due diligent efforts to learn of the physical address, and the absence of an international agreement prohibiting such service.
The Court determined that where the physical address is known, the Hague Convention applies. Otherwise, the Convention does not apply. The alternative means of service pondered was email so long as it was reasonably calculated to ensure actual notice to the defendants. The clinching criteria is the evidence of not receiving an “undeliverable notification.” In the absence of receiving a undeliverable notification, the Court deemed international service of lawsuits via email service suffices the requirement of being calculated to provide ‘actual notice.’