I say all the time that we’re not building rockets here. But we are building a ship of sorts, and a ship that can’t keep water out means cargo doesn’t make it to its destination. Serving process in Venezuela is subject to the strictures of the Hague Service Convention, regardless of which U.S. or Canadian venue is hearing the matter.
You’ve got three ways to go in launching a Hague Service Request:
- Tap us on the shoulder for bespoke attention—and probably some amusing commentary to boot (see the upper right if you’re on a desktop, or way down below if you’re on a phone/tablet),
- Cruise over to the Hague Envoy platform at USM94.com to automate the completion of your forms in perhaps twenty minutes or so, or
- If you’re feeling froggy & would like to handle the whole thing yourself, keep reading. This lays out the framework you’ll need.
Some background is in order, if you’re so inclined, before we cut to the chase.
- The roadmap to the overall process—the recipe to our Secret Sauce.
- The structure of the Convention itself is discussed in this four-part series.
- And an absolutely critical note: the Hague Service Convention does not pertain to subpoenas. Repeat after me—you can’t just SERVE a subpoena abroad. You have to file a Hague Evidence Request. Dramatically different from serving a summons or notice.
I wish I had a nicer picture to paint (like the stunning mountainscape above), but I don’t. Venezuela’s government is barely functional by most accounts, and to be honest, I haven’t even been able to get a Hague Request actually delivered to its Central Authority in years. But plaintiffs must still try to file the request because there’s no other way to reach an Article 15 default scenario. Here’s the rundown on requirements:
Article 5 Service
- Translate the documents. Venezuela’s declaration to Article 5(3) requires it and, although the defendant may speak flawless English, omitting translated documents will prompt the Central Authority to reject your request.*
- Fill out a USM-94. Be very careful about ensuring that it is complete and concise, and make sure that it is signed by a court official or an attorney. If it is not, make sure that the person signing is commissioned by the court.
- Send to the Central Authority.
- Sit tight. It may take a while—likely 9 months, perhaps a year, from submission to return of proof. The judge is just going to have to accept that fact, because there is no appropriate alternative…
Article 10 alternative methods
- Forget them, because Venezuela objects to mail service (Article 10(a)), but it doesn’t indicate who is competent under 10(b). Article 5 is the way. Acabado, abogado.
Seriously—that’s all there is to it in Venezuela, but don’t get excited. Sure, the method is straightforward and simple, but actually making it happen is anything but smooth. The real problem with service in Venezuela is three-fold: (1) deliveries to the Central Authority are incredibly hit or miss, (2) even if the request arrives, there’s no real way of tracking it, and (3) only Hugo Chávez knows how long it will take for a response to come back, and he died a decade ago.
Venezuela’s declarations and Central Authority information can be found here.
Bonus practice tip #1: if the idea is strategically sound, ask the defendant to waive service. Note that I didn’t say accept— I said waive. There’s a very important difference.
Bonus practice tip #2: if you’re defense counsel, always question the validity of service effected on your overseas client. The plaintiff may not have done it correctly.
* The most frequent defendant I see is Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), the state-owned oil conglomerate. PDVSA is a majority owner in Citgo, the U.S. refiner and distributor (their gas station roller dogs are an experience, I can tell you), so they’re competent in English, I can assure you. They also have U.S. counsel, but be wary of how you go about using that fact to your advantage.