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Moore v. Toyota Motor Corporation

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

November 13, 2017

ROBERT L. MOORE
v.
TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION, ET AL.

         SECTION “R” (5)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SARAH S. VANCE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendants Toyota Motor Corporation and Toyoda Gosei Co., Ltd each move to dismiss.[1] For the following reasons, the Court orders plaintiff to effectuate proper service on Toyota Motor Corporation within 60 days. Further, the Court dismisses plaintiff's claims against Toyoda Gosei.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of an allegedly defective airbag in Plaintiff Robert Moore's Toyota Corolla.[2] On January 24, 2016, plaintiff was involved in an automobile accident.[3] Plaintiff alleges that his airbag deployed suddenly and severely injured him.[4] On August 22, 2016, plaintiff brought a pro se petition in state court against Toyota Motor Corporation and Takata Corporation.[5]

         On January 23, 2017, plaintiff, through counsel, filed an amended petition in state court naming TK Holdings, Inc. and Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. as additional defendants.[6] The amended petition requested service on these two defendants.[7] On February 15, 2017, Toyota Motor Sales and TK Holdings removed the matter to this Court on the basis of diversity of citizenship.[8] The notice of removal indicates that Toyota Motor Corporation and Takata Corporation were not served with process before removal.[9]

         On April 24, 2017, plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint.[10] Plaintiff's proposed amended complaint named Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, Inc. as an additional defendant.[11] Magistrate Judge North granted leave to amend, but directed plaintiff to delete all causes of action except those arising under the Louisiana Products Liability Act.[12] On June 15, 2017, plaintiff filed an amended complaint naming Toyoda Gosei Co., Ltd as an additional defendant.[13] The record does not indicate that plaintiff either requested or received leave to join Toyoda Gosei as a defendant in this matter.

         Plaintiff's counsel represents that Toyoda Gosei Co. LTD-North America was served with process on June 29, 2017, and Toyoda Gosei Co., Ltd. and Toyota Motor Corporation were each served on July 10, 2017.[14]Toyoda Gosei Co. LTD-North America is not a defendant in this matter. Toyota Motor Corporation and Toyoda Gosei are both Japanese corporations.[15] They each move to dismiss on the basis of invalid service of process.[16]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         If a party is not validly served with process, proceedings against that party are void. Aetna Bus. Credit, Inc. v. Universal Decor & Interior Design, Inc., 635 F.2d 434, 435 (5th Cir. 1981). When service of process is challenged, “the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing its validity.” Carimi v. Royal Carribean Cruise Line, Inc., 959 F.2d 1344, 1346 (5th Cir. 1992). Service on a corporate defendant located outside the United States is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(f). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(h)(2). The Fifth Circuit has explained that “Rule 4(f) authorizes a without-prejudice dismissal when the court determines in its discretion that the plaintiff has not demonstrated reasonable diligence in attempting service.” Lozano v. Bosdet, 693 F.3d 485, 489 (5th Cir. 2012). But if the statute of limitations is likely to bar future litigation, dismissal is appropriate only if there exists “a clear record of delay or contumacious conduct by the plaintiff.” Id. at 489-90 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).

         The Hague Service Convention is a multilateral treaty intended to facilitate service of process abroad and ensure defendants sued in foreign jurisdictions receive actual and timely notice of suit. See Volkswagenwerk Aktiengesellschaft v. Schlunk, 486 U.S. 694, 698 (1988). The United States and Japan are signatories to the Convention.[17] The treaty requires each signatory country to establish a central authority, which receives judicial documents and serves them on parties within the country in accordance with that country's law. Id. at 698-99. The Hague Service Convention also permits service by mail under certain circumstances. See Water Splash, Inc. v. Menon, 137 S.Ct. 1504, 1513 (2017).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Toyota Motor Corporation

         The record indicates that plaintiff's counsel attempted to serve Toyota Motor Corporation in Japan through the United States Postal Service.[18] The Supreme Court has explained that, under the Hague Service Convention, “service by mail is permissible if two conditions are met: first, the receiving state has not objected to service by mail; and second, service by mail is authorized under otherwise-applicable law.” Water Splash, 137 S.Ct. at 1513 (citing Brockmeyer v. May, 383 F.3d 798, 803-04 (9th Cir. 2004)).

         For service by mail to be proper, plaintiff must show that it was affirmatively authorized by applicable law. Plaintiff argues that service by mail is permissible under Louisiana's long-arm statute.[19] But plaintiff attempted to serve Toyota Motor Corporation in July 2017, several months after this matter was removed to federal court.[20] Plaintiff is therefore required comply with federal rules regarding service of process. See 28 U.S.C. § 1448; Fed.R.Civ.P. 81(c)(1).

         Service by regular international mail is not authorized by applicable federal law. Rule 4(f) provides that an individual may be served in a foreign country “by any internationally agreed means of service that is reasonably calculated to give notice, such as those authorized by the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(f)(1). Here, it is undisputed ...


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