Executing service of process could be the difference between enforcing your rights or getting bogged down in expensive, time-consuming litigation. But you need a plan, especially if you are trying to proceed against an international party. No matter how strong your claim is on the merits, the case will collapse if process is served incorrectly.

In the case of a United States plaintiff trying to proceed against a party located in India, the first question to ask is whether the party can be sued at all. Federal law recognizes the sovereign immunity of foreign states, subject only to a handful of exceptions. If the defendant is the Indian government or a government-controlled company, the plaintiff likely will have to show that its claim is based on maritime or commercial activity directly connected to the United States.

After determining whether the defendant can be sued, the next is question is “how?” Correctly serving process on a foreign party is key, allowing litigation to proceed on the merits without the distraction of a fight over civil procedure. Roughly 50 countries—including the United States and India—are signatories to the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents, which sets out uniform procedures for serving process on parties in member nations.

The Hague Convention specifies that each country designate a “central authority” that acts like a clearinghouse for service of process by international litigants. The authority arranges for service of process in accordance with the local law, and afterwards sends a certificate of confirmation to the party that made the request. In India, the central authority is the Ministry of Law and Justice, located in New Delhi.

The Hague Convention was drafted with the goal of “simplifying and expediting the procedure” for international service of process. But, the convention also permits nations to sign subject to special terms and reservations, and most countries have done so. India, for example, requires that service occur in English, but prohibits service via mail. A one-year statute of limitations applies for relief from judgment, and service through diplomatic channels is “limited to nationals of the state in which the documents originate.”

In practice, each country’s special requirements for service of process mean that the international rules are not actually uniform. In a legal dispute involving parties in India or any other country, the successful litigant could easily be the one who can efficiently navigate the complexities of international service of process. So, be careful to know the law and plan ahead—even with the strongest substantive claim, there is no substitute for procedural expertise.

The Jayaram Law Group, LTD regularly counsels Indian entities who have been sued in the United States or have a claim against an entity in the United States. We have successfully litigated jurisdictional issues arising out of these circumstances, and would be happy to discuss your matter with you.