The California Court of Appeal, in a published opinion, issued a writ of mandate pursuant to a petition filed by the law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman dismissing cross-complaints filed against Colombian corporations on the grounds of improper service of process. This decision is a valuable tutorial about how to—and how not to—serve foreign defendants who are in countries signatory to the Hague Service Convention. See: Inversiones Papaluchi S.A.S, et al v. Superior Court (Real Parties in Interest, Robinson Helicopter Co, Inc., et al, 20 Cal.App. 5th 105.
Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman filed the petition for the writ on behalf of Colombian corporations that were named as cross-defendants by Honeywell International, Rolls Royce Corp. and Robinson Helicopter Co. defendants in the wrongful death lawsuit alleging defective parts in the engine of a Robinson R66 helicopter caused the death of its pilot and passenger.
Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman represents the families of the victims in the wrongful death lawsuit filed in response to the 2011 fatal Robinson helicopter crash. The helicopter crashed in Colombia, but Baum Hedlund filed the case in Los Angeles, and successfully defeated several attempts by the defendants to move the case to Colombia. That case is scheduled to go to trial on June 26, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
California Court of Appeal Grants Petition, Certifies Order to Publish Opinion
On Feb. 27, 2018, the Court of Appeal issued an order certifying the Court’s opinion in Re: Inversiones Papaluchi, etc. v. Superior Court for publication.
According to the Los Angeles Daily Journal, nine out of ten petitions for writs of mandate submitted to the California Court of Appeal are denied out of hand without any explanation. If a petition is not immediately denied, the Court of Appeal chooses from an array of options, ranging from a denial of the petition, to granting an althernative writ giving trial court an opportunity to re-hear the issues, to setting a formal hearing, and issuing a written opinion granting or denying the relief sought by the petition. In this case, the relief sought was an order dismissing the cross-complaints contrary to the order of the trial court which, after hearing, did not. The Court of Appeal granted the relief requested by ordering the trial court to change its ruling, and dismiss the cross-complaints.
The bottom line: The California Court of Appeal denies nearly all petitions for writs of mandate, and on the rare occasion where a petition is granted, getting that decision published is even rarer.
Background on the Inversiones Opinion and the Fatal Colombian Helicopter Crash
On July 12, 2011, a Robinson R66 helicopter crash in Colombia killed the pilot and passenger. The victims’ families filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Robinson Helicopter Company, Inc. (R66 helicopter manufacturer), Honeywell International, Inc. (R66 fuel system manufacturer), and Rolls-Royce Corporation (R66 engine manufacturer) in the Los Angeles, California.
In response to the wrongful death lawsuit, Robinson Helicopter, Honeywell and Rolls-Royce filed nearly identical cross-complaints against Inversiones Papaluchi S.A.S. and Inversiones Protech S.A.S. (collectively Inversiones) as cross-defendants alleging that these Colombian corporations (allegedly owned by the children of one of the decedents) should indemnify those who built and sold the helicopter if a court or jury determines that the crash was their fault.
Inversiones Papaluchi and Inversiones Protech each challenged the respondent court’s order denying their motion to quash service of summons and dismiss the cross-complaints. An alternative writ was issued directing the respondent court to vacate its order, or to show cause before the California Court of Appeal why relief sought in the petition should not be granted. The respondent court elected not to comply with the alternative writ. Honeywell and Rolls-Royce filed a joint return, Robinson Helicopter filed a joinder to the return, and petitioners filed a reply.
The basis of the challenge to service of process by Robinson was that they failed to serve the cross-complaint within a mandatory three year time frame from the date its cross-complaint was filed.
With respect to Honeywell and Rolls-Royce, petitioners contended that their attempts to serve the corporations by Federal Express and email failed to comply with the requirements of Hague Service Convention and California law.
The Court of Appeals, in its opinion, wrote:
“The issues before this court are whether: (1) Robinson Helicopter timely attempted service of its cross-complaint on petitioners within the three-year statutory period; and (2) Honeywell and Rolls-Royce properly served petitioners in Colombia by Federal Express and email. We conclude Robinson Helicopter’s cross-complaint should have been dismissed because service was attempted beyond the three year statutory period, and Robinson Helicopter offers no valid exception to this rule. We further conclude that Honeywell and Rolls-Royce failed to properly serve petitioners pursuant to the Hague Service Convention. Therefore, petitioners’ motion should have been granted and the cross-complaints dismissed.”
The Court concluded that Honeywell and Rolls-Royce did not properly effectuate service on petitioners by Federal Express or by email pursuant to the Hague Service Convention.
“Publication of the Court of Appeal’s opinion in Inversions Papaluchi, etc., et al v. Superior Court will provide substantial guidance to the bench and the bar in addressing the means and manner required under California law to effect service of process in a foreign country that has adhered to the Hague Service Convention,” said attorney Ronald L.M. Goldman.
“California is a leader in the global economy. The state’s citizens and businesses are increasingly involved in business and consumer transactions with foreign corporations and citizens. Litigation often arises from these transactions. The combined ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California are perhaps the busiest in the U.S., as they handle roughly two-thirds of all ocean cargo volume on the West Coast, and more than one-third of all volume in the nation.”
“This opinion is of great importance to all who might be caught up in California based litigation with persons or entities located abroad. The published opinion, which may be relied on by such litigants and courts, will clarify the rules one needs to follow both with respect to the Hague Service Convention and California law governing the procedure for service of process abroad.”