(See the author’s note below for clarification on which Hague Convention!)
A Hague Service Request, commonly known in the United States as a “USM-94” but also used in Canada, can be at once straightforward and daunting. On the surface, it’s really just a fill-in-the-blank form. But the devil is in the details, and when hell breaks loose in Georgia, the devil deals the cards. It’s not as easy as it might seem, for a whole bunch of reasons.* Yet not all is lost. You really can simplify things in a couple of ways (yes, we can do it for you, but that’s a separate discussion):
- Avail yourself of some help on the Hague Envoy platform at usm94.com (shameless plug here). It’s sort of like using tax prep software in the run-up to April 15th… answer a dozen or so questions, and the system will generate a completed Hague Request form, a sample cover letter, and thorough instructions on what & how to print and where to send everything.
- Or follow this comprehensive, step-by-step How-To Guide. I published it back in 2016, and it’s still completely valid, but a Cliff’s Notes version is in order. Here’s an abridged version of the guide…
Steps in order:
- Make sure you have the right version of the form for the country you’re sending it to. The Hague Conference on Private International Law provides model documents here— in both Word and fillable PDF– in multiple languages. English and French run throughout, but they also have tri-lingual versions, particularly in German, Spanish, and Chinese.
- Fill in the blanks for your name & contact info (by “your” I mean the name of the lawyer who will sign the form) at the top of page 1.
- Over on the right, enter the name & address of the appropriate Central Authority in the destination country.
- Enter the defendant’s name & address (if you don’t have it, stop what you’re doing and see here), then check box A right below it.
- List the documents you need to serve.
- Indicate the city where you’re signing it, and date it. After you print, you’ll sign at the bottom right, counselor.
- Leave page 2 blank. The foreign authority will should use it as proof of service. [Okay, they do it maybe two times in ten. The other eight, they just use their own blanks.]
- On page 3, enter the defendant’s name & address again, just like you entered it on page 1. Yes, I know this is redundant. Do it anyway.
- And at the bottom, indicate the legal aid office nearest the court. Yes, I know. A massive international conglomerate doesn’t qualify for legal aid. Do it anyway.
- On page 4, enter your name & contact info again, just like you entered it on page 1. Yes, I know this is redundant. Do it anyway. (See a pattern here?)
- List the parties as they appear in the case caption. (If the list is really long, you’re usually okay just listing the lead plaintiff and lead defendant, then say “please see complaint/petition/statement of claim for a complete list of parties.”)
- Nature and purpose of the document? I usually say something like “To inform the defendant of a claim against it and to demand its appearance at court.” No need to get wordy.
- Nature and purpose of the proceedings? Just give a very brief sentence or two about what the case is about– again, no need to get wordy. You’re not arguing here. This is the elevator pitch, like “Plaintiffs accuse the defendant of, inter alia, negligence resulting in injury. They seek damages, costs, and fees.” **
- Date and Place for entering appearance? That’s the court— not plaintiff’s counsel’s office. In short, where do they go, and when do they have to do it?
- Unless you’re enforcing a judgment or seeking a modification, the next two boxes will be n/a.
- Time limits stated in the document? Just reiterate when they have to appear.
End of list.
Of course, there are lots of do’s and don’ts involved here– not the least of which is the minefield that is translation– but nobody has time for that here. This is merely an overview, so for country-specific perspectives, hit the search bar in the upper right corner of your screen. For the record, we’re always happy to offer a bit of guidance beyond what’s indicated here and in the original, longer version of the guide, so don’t be bashful.
* If it were truly that easy, I wouldn’t have a practice devoted entirely to this procedure.
** I love that phrase, inter alia.
Author’s note: I hate to be so pedantic, but it’s critical to know that there’s no such thing as “The” Hague Convention. This pertains to requests sent to foreign authorities pursuant to Article 5 of the Hague Service Convention. It is not a guide for requests under other Hague Conventions– and that’s a vital part of the question, because there are over three dozen of them. We’re talking here about serving summons & complaint combinations– or citations/petitions depending on forum– as well as subsequent pleadings. If you’re looking to serve a subpoena, this is also not what you want. Instead, you want to talk to Ted Folkman about a Hague Evidence Convention request.