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On the Vicissitudes of Cross-Border Cooperation in the Service of Documents

Practice shows that we’re far away from a perfect world of cooperation between state authorities in the field of cross-border service of process. This post is not about a judgment dealing with the matter (yet). It is what we call a ‘true story’, and serves as a kind of case study, to understand the variety of unprecedented situations with which courts may have to deal with.

The Facts

A Greek company filed an action against a foreign company, situated in an EU Member State. The claim, its translation, and an application pursuant to Article 4 of the Service Regulation were duly sent by the Transmitting to the Receiving Agency. The latter forwarded the claim to a process server for the purpose of serving the action to its recipient. Following fruitless efforts, the bailiff returned the documents to the court of the state of destination, stating that the respondent was not found in the given address. In particular, so his report, there was no indication that the company had its office there, and no person representing the company or any employee was found in the building. In accordance with domestic law on civil procedure, a hearing took place in camera on the request for service. The court stated that, following official information received, the respondent’s registered seat and postal address was in fact the same with the one stated in the claim form. As a result, and pursuant to Article 50(2) of the Code of Civil Procedure, the documents must be attached to the file, and service shall be deemed as duly made.

On the basis of the above conclusions, the court ordered that a certificate of service in accordance with Article 10 Service Regulation be issued, which should be delivered to the Transmitting Agency, with a true copy of the process server report attached.

The Receiving Agency abided by the order, and issued the above certificate, by making use of the standardized version in Greek. The person in charge filled in the following data: The date and address of service [12.1] in the language of the State of destination, and the method of service [12.2.1.3], i.e. pursuant to Article 50(2) of the Code of Civil Procedure, again in the language of the State of destination. The above person ticked also the box under 12.3, which demonstrates that the recipient was informed in writing that he may refuse to accept the document if it is not translated in a language he understands or the official language of the place of service. Finally, the place, name and capacity under which the above person drafted and signed the document were again written in the language of the state of destination. No court stamp is visible in the certificate.

What Would You Do if You Were the Greek Judge?

As I mentioned before, the case is still pending, and the claimant’s lawyer is seriously apprehended whether the documents aforementioned suffice for proving that service has taken place in accordance with the Service Regulation.

There are a number of critical points to be discussed in this case.

1. Is the Greek court entitled to return the certificate, because it was not completed in the languages accepted by the Hellenic Republic (Greek / English / French)? It is true that the receiving Agency made use of the standardized document in its Greek version; however, the crucial data were completed in the language of the State addressed, which is different from the languages declared by Greece).

2. Is the Greek court entitled to challenge the service of process, even if the document was served by a method prescribed by the internal law of the Member State addressed for the service of documents in domestic actions upon persons who are within its territory? According to Greek law, if the process server does not find anything or anyone related to the recipient in the given address, service by publication must follow.

3. Is the Greek court entitled to ask at this stage for a particular method of service, because the one chosen by the foreign court is violating the rights of the defendant? Article 7(1) of the Service Regulation does not give a clear answer in this respect.

4. Is the Greek court entitled to ask at this stage for further scrutiny by the Receiving Agency, so that the document is actually served to the defendant or one of its representatives? I fear that this won’t be accepted by the Receiving Agency, simply because service has taken place in accordance with its domestic rules.

5. If the Greek court considers that service was proper, because it was served by a method prescribed by the internal law of the Member State addressed: was it effected in sufficient time to enable the defendant to defend? I anticipate that the Greek court will consider that service was not timely, and therefore order a stay of proceedings.

Finally, an additional and purely domestic problem comes to the surface for the claimant. According to Greek law, and with respect to cases tried in the so called ordinary proceedings, service of process abroad has to be completed within 60 calendar days following filing of the claim. Failure to do so leads to dismissal of the claim as inadmissible. Filing and service has to be repeated. In the case at hand, the claimant passed already through this ordeal, because service of the first claim was not timely completed, i.e. not within the 60-days term. Now comes the second challenge and the claimant’s lawyer is at a loss…