US plaintiffs must serve Mexicans via Mexico-court

Fri Apr 17, 2009 1:05am BST

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*Lawsuit involves Grupo Televisa but may have wider impact

*Ruling centers on decade-old translation error

By Gina Keating

LOS ANGELES, April 16 (Reuters) - U.S. lawsuits against Mexicans must be served through Mexico's designated central authority, a federal judge in Los Angeles has ruled in a case involving broadcaster Grupo Televisa (TLVACPO.MX) and others.

The decision could have a big impact on litigation in which U.S. plaintiffs sue Mexican entities, an attorney in the case said on Thursday.

Also, the commonly accepted practice of serving lawsuits in Mexico by mail or by official process server is improper and was condoned only by a decade-old translation error in Mexico's Hague Convention declarations, U.S. District Judge John Walter found in a ruling filed on Wednesday.

The case is a copyright infringement and breach of contract lawsuit by music publisher OGM Inc against Mexican broadcaster Grupo Televisa (TLVACPO.MX), U.S. Spanish-language TV network Univision and related entities.

Televisa attorney Seong Kim, of Steptoe & Johnson in Los Angeles, said the case could have a "huge impact" on U.S. litigation against Mexican defendants.

"A lot of times, you serve someone in Mexico and there is no response and a judgment will issue," he said. "Now a defendant can come in and say, 'That judgment is nullified because the case wasn't properly served.'"

Challenges to the translation by other Mexican defendants could also delay pending U.S. litigation while plaintiffs resubmit complaints to Mexico's central authority, a process that could take months, Kim said.

Mexico has designated the Directorate General of Legal Affairs of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs as its central authority to receive and forward requests for service of lawsuits from other Hague Convention countries.

Walter did not dismiss Televisa from the case but required OGM to serve the company again through Mexico's central authority. The case is set for trial in December.

In his ruling, Walter found that OGM's two attempts to serve Televisa with the summons and complaint -- by international registered mail and by a Mexican notary public -- were insufficient despite guidelines on the U.S. State Department website that appeared to allow those methods.

The website, and several U.S. court rulings, relied on a flawed "courtesy translation" of Mexico's Spanish-language declarations to the Hague Convention provided by the Netherlands' foreign ministry, the court wrote.

In fact, Mexico said it was "opposed to the direct service of documents to persons in Mexican territory", Walter wrote.

"...Based on the original Mexican declaration, the court concludes that Mexico has in fact objected to service through the alternative methods specified in ... the Hague Convention, and that service through Mexico's Central Authority is the exclusive method by which (OGM) can serve Televisa in Mexico," the judge wrote.

The case is OGM Inc v. Televisa, 08-cv-05742, in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. (Reporting by Gina Keating; Editing by Gary Hill)

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