Toledo Courthouse, San Juan, PR. Notice the big blue mailbox with the eagle on it.  Look familiar? (Daderot, via Wikimedia Commons.)

This conversation happens pretty frequently.  At first glance, it might seem like a silly discussion to have, but in reality, most of us don’t have a good handle on the geography or history behind it because we were never really exposed to it in high school.  And who paid attention then, anyway?

Caller:  “Hey, Aaron, how do I serve process in Puerto Rico?”

Me:  You pick up the phone and call a process server on that sunny island.  It’s really that simple.

Caller:  “But don’t I have to follow the Hague?”

Me:  No.

Y’see, Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, and has been since just after the Spanish-American War.  Think “Remember the Maine,” Teddy Roosevelt, San Juan Hill and all that.  Of course, San Juan Hill is in Cuba and the city of San Juan is in Puerto Rico, but I digress.  Puerto Ricans (or, Boricuas if you’re keen to use the proper term) are U.S. citizens, they vote in presidential elections, and they carry blue passports with a big gold eagle stamped on the front, just like folks born in Iowa.

For the purpose of procedural requirements in U.S. state courts, Puerto Rico should be viewed in the same manner as a sister state…

  • Divorce case in Georgia, serving a respondent in Saint Paul?  You need a Minnesota process server.
  • Divorce case in Georgia, but serving a respondent in San Juan? You need a Puerto Rico process server.  It’s literally the same analysis.

Things are even clearer in federal court…

  • RICO case in S.D.N.Y., serving a defendant in Miami?  You need a Florida process server– or any non-party adult willing to do the job.
  • RICO case in S.D.N.Y., with a defendant in Mayagüez?  You need a Puerto Rico process server– or any non-party adult willing to do the job.  Again, same analysis.
  • In either case, the defendant is obliged to waive.  And if they refuse without cause?  Mandatory fee shifting under Rule 4(d)(2).*  They’re within a judicial district of the United States (D.P.R., naturally), so… pay up, folks.

Perhaps an even better analogy is this:  think of Puerto Rico in the same way you’d think of the District of Columbia.  No, it’s not a sovereign state, but it might as well be– at least in terms of procedural questions.  People born in DC are U.S. citizens, they vote in presidential elections, and they carry blue passports with a big gold eagle stamped on the front, just like folks born in Iowa.  (To be sure, both DC and PR are taxed without representation, but that’s an entirely different kettle of fish.)

In short, you don’t need somebody like me to effect service in Puerto Rico pursuant to the Hague Service Convention.  [Unless you’re in Canada– and even then, it’s pretty simple.  Yes, the Convention would govern how you do it, but you can use a process server under Article 10(b) just like you would in Michigan.]


* For a discussion of fee shifting in cases where a foreign defendant refuses to waive, see Serving Overseas: The Carrot and Stick of Waiver.  [That’s foreign in the “you need a passport to go there” sense, rather than the “across State Line Road” sense.  Yes, this is a distinction only a very nerdy lawyer could love.]