The U.S. Supreme Court Considers What Constitutes Proper Service on a Sovereign Nation

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On November 8th, 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral argument in Republic of Sudan v. Harrison, a case on appeal from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The Supreme Court granted the petition of writ of certiorari to resolve a circuit split on whether service of process to an embassy is sufficient when a foreign state is a party to a lawsuit. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1608(a) service on a foreign state can be rendered in a number of ways, among them, “by sending a copy of the summons and complaint and a notice of suit, together with a translation of each into the official language of the foreign state, by any form of mail requiring a signed receipt, to be addressed and dispatched by the clerk of the court to the head of the ministry of foreign affairs of the foreign state concerned.” In October, 2000, the U.S.S. Cole was destroyed by Al-Qaeda; 17 American Navy sailors were killed and 42 were injured. In 2010, some of the injured sailors and their spouses filed suit against the Republic of Sudan (“Sudan”) in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs brought suit under an exception in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”), which authorized a federal cause of action for victims of “state-sponsored terrorism.” (28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)). The plaintiffs alleged that Sudan had provided material support to Al-Qaeda. The Clerk of the Court served Sudan by sending the summons and complaint to the head of Sudan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was sent via certified mail to the...