[Update, 2021. Covid-19 has stretched out an already lengthy time expectation in India… I haven’t received a proof of service since before the pandemic, and don’t expect to in the near future. As of spring, 2022… it hasn’t gotten any better… I recommend that my clients expect a full two years before receipt of proof, and even that might be optimistic.]
India. Earth’s largest democracy, with a sophisticated society and legal structure. Rich in religious tradition, it is home to both the Hindu and Sikh faiths, as well as multiple yoga forms and transcendental meditation. India is an ancient and mystic land of one and a quarter billion people (that’s billion, with a B).
And they have one guy working in their Central Authority for the Hague Service Convention.*
No wonder the wait time for service of process in India is among the worst in the world. You FedEx a request to New Delhi, and it sits in the Authority’s mail cart for three months before the fellow can even open it. He then sends it out to whatever court has jurisdiction over the defendant, and the court sits on it for three more months, before finally sending a bailiff out to deliver the papers. Maybe the bailiff serves it, maybe not.
Either way, the paperwork gets routed back through the same bureaucratic pipeline in reverse, before a proof of service (or non-service) comes back to the lawyer who requested it. Sometimes a year later, depending on circumstances. Yes, it can be sped up a bit if you know how to jump the line, but even in that instance, six months is the bare minimum.
Given India’s opposition to Hague “alternative methods” (see Article 10), there is no way around the Central Authority, so if your defendant is in India, you’re stuck with a single way to serve him. This is the only legal way to do it— the biggest issue with India, frankly, is not how it’s done, but why it takes so blasted long.
Perhaps the judge is agitated. No question the plaintiff is anxious. But this is truly the only way to legally effect service.
Fret not, though. It may take a long time, but India still gets the job done—and is fairly detailed in its reasoning if service is not effected. Under federal rules, time is not a fatal issue when serving abroad. Specifically, FRCP 4(m) waives the 90-day deadline to serve (formerly 120 days, until the December, 2015 revisions) before the case must be dismissed.** This does not, obviously, give plaintiffs unlimited time, but a reasonable diligence standard applies—as long as counsel is not dilatory (yeah, I had to look that one up), the court is going to allow plenty of time. Reasonable diligence is pretty simple… once the request arrives in New Delhi, the lawyer’s duty is fulfilled.
That ought to satisfy the judge. Your client, on the other hand… I don’t know what to tell you. Have them meditate?
* Okay, I exaggerate. It’s not just a single person, but it’s a tiny, tiny staff.
** In all but a couple of states—very cold states where they make cheese and cars—procedural rules and case law generally reach the same result. So relax (unless you’re in Wisconsin or Michigan, in which case let’s talk).