As if the earth-shattering scandal surrounding Volkswagen’s EPA “defeat device” were old news, we have become accustomed to story after story of the company’s wrongdoing. When the spotlight was cast on VW subsidiary Audi earlier this year, the story didn’t make many waves, seemingly because it was expected. If the parent did it, why not the sub, too?
Next, we learned that yet another European conglomerate sought to defraud U.S. environmental regulators. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, N.V. (FCA) was also caught in the proverbial net, with perhaps more to follow.
Of course, the litigation floodgates opened, with suits brought by consumers and state attorneys-general across the United States. Unfair and deceptive marketing practices, specific violations of merchandising practices statutes, conspiracy, pervasive fraud…
Last week, a newly-released study alleged that the hub of the wheel in the whole scandal was Robert Bosch GmbH*, the massive German engineering & electronics firm. According to researchers at UC-San Diego and Ruhr University-Bochum, Bosch wrote the code that got the automakers around EPA testing and allowed them to achieve better scores on emissions tests than more scrupulous competitors. The thought that such a highly respected company would undertake such a massive campaign of underhandedness makes American car-buyers wonder who else was involved. And so the lawsuits come.
This poses specific, though not insurmountable, challenges to plaintiffs’ lawyers across the country. All three automakers, as well as Bosch, are chartered and domiciled in nations that are party to the Hague Service Convention. When they are sued in U.S. courts, service of process must be effected according to very specific guidelines mapped out in the Convention, or the effort to bring suit is a colossal waste of time.
In the case of FCA (now the parent company of Chrysler), the best way to go is pretty straightforward: serve in England, even though it’s originally an Italian company now chartered in the Netherlands. Fiat’s head office is in London.
As for the others—VW, Audi, Bosch—it’s Germany. All Germany, all the time. And folks over there are very particular about the application of the Hague Service Convention. Simply put, folks, ain’t but one way to do it. At least, ain’t but one way to do it right. And that’s the key.
Specific on How to Serve Process in Germany can be found here. It’s a fairly regular procedure, but the machine has lots of intricate and finely tuned moving parts. Be meticulous about it.
* GmbH in Germany = LLC in the United States. [Whereas N.V., the entity type selected by the creators of Fiat Chrysler, is a Dutch corporation. A great Wiki defines just about any foreign type of entity you can imagine.]