Learning that a lawsuit has been filed against your company is never welcome news, especially when the case is proceeding in a foreign country. But, an Indian company sued in the United States has important rights that can potentially defeat the plaintiff’s case. The successful defendant will know the law, and object at the first deviation.
Step One: Service of Process
The plaintiff’s first burden is to correctly execute service of process—that is, to notify the defendant of the suit as required by law.
India and the United States are both signatories to the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents, a treaty providing uniform guidelines for international service of process. Under the convention, plaintiffs serve process on a foreign country’s “central authority,” which then forwards the documents to local defendants. But, countries may adopt modifications. Therefore, when an American plaintiff sues a defendant located in India, the defendant’s first response should be to check whether service met the requirements of Indian law. For example:
• All documents must be in English
• Service by mail is prohibited
• Service through diplomatic channels is allowed, but only for nationals of the state where
the documents originate
Unless service of process meets all the requirements of the Hague Convention—including the special rules for Indian defendants—an American court will quash the lawsuit at the defendant’s request.
Step Two: Minimum Contacts
The plaintiff’s second burden is to establish that the court has jurisdiction over the defendant, based on the defendant’s “minimum contacts” to the forum. A U.S. court will hear the case only if the defendant reasonably anticipated falling under its authority.
When does that expectation exist? Courts ask whether the defendant invoked the “benefits and protections” of local law (for example, through product sales, contracts, or advertising.) The court has “specific” jurisdiction over the defendant if the conduct is related to the lawsuit. But, with sufficient minimum contacts, the defendant can also be subject to the court’s “general” jurisdiction—even if those contacts are unrelated to plaintiff’s complaint.
There is no bright line for when an activity rises to the level of minimum contact. As with service of process, a defendant has rights but must know how to enforce them. The Jayaram Law, 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.