Case of the Day: Health Science Distributors Co. v. Usher-Sparks

The case of the day is Health Science Distributors Co. v. Usher-Sparks (M.D. Fla. 2011). Health Science sued Robert Usher-Sparks and Trevor Taylor, who did business in Guernsey as Wellsprings Trading, for trademark infringement and unfair competition. Usher-Sparks and Taylor moved to dismiss for insufficient service of process. Health Service attempted to serve the summons and complaint by delivering the papers to an office administrator at Wellsprings’s offices, but the administrator refused to accept service on behalf of Usher-Sparks or Taylor.

Article 19 of the Hague Service Convention permits methods of service other than the methods prescribed by the Convention “to the extent that the internal law of a contracting State permits” them. The question was whether the service complied with the UK’s internal law. According to the magistrate judge, service at an individual’s place of business under Rule 6.9 of the Civil Procedure Rules (question for UK lawyers: do the rules that apply to service of process in England and Wales apply in Guernsey?) is permissible only if personal service or other means of service are inapplicable, and Health Science had failed to show that those methods did not apply. I can express no opinion on the correctness of this view under UK law.

The case is noteworthy because it contains a rare reference to Article 19. As the UK’s declarations and reservations to the Hague Service Convention make clear, it is entirely proper to serve process in England and Wales by having a solicitor serve the documents personally on the defendant. Thus the UK is a country where there may not be a strong reason to make use of the central authority mechanism for service of process.

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