The plain language of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4 (FRCP 4) sets out how service of process is to be effectuated on parties located outside the United States. When, however, it comes to a proceeding to confirm an arbitration award, numerous cases have held that those requirements are not inflexible. Sometimes, in the name of “fairness,” a key factor to a court’s acceptance of service as effective is whether actual notice was given to the defendant, as distinguished from strict compliance with service of process rules.

The most recent example of a court’s adopting this approach is TLV International v. Zhejiang Shenghui Lighting Co. Ltd, Case No. 19-cv-00393 (W.D.N.C. Feb. 3, 2021). In that case, the parties had entered into a non-disclosure agreement that provided for arbitration, “administered by the American Arbitration Association [AAA] in North Carolina in accordance with its Commercial Arbitration Rules, and judgment on the award rendered by the arbitrator(s) [to] be entered in any court having jurisdiction thereof.” The plaintiff brought an arbitration that resulted in a damages award in its favor, which it then sought to confirm. The defendants moved to dismiss for insufficient service of process; one of them, Zhejiang Shenghui, a Chinese company, asserted that it had not been served in accordance with FRCP 4.