486 U. S. 694
June 15, 1988
After an automobile accident, Herwig Schlunk wanted to sue the German company Volkswagen. He served their American subsidiary, on the understanding that the notice would be relayed back to the German parent corporation. Volkswagen said they should have been served in Germany, according to the dictates of the Hague Convention. Schlunk responded that this was not necessary if proper service could be effected by through the American subsidiary.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that service to the subsidiary was acceptable. O’Connor looked through the drafting history of the Hague Convention, and concluded that it intended to leave local laws about service still operating, with international service only being required if local laws failed to give adequate notice. According to American law, service on the German parent is considered legally effectuated when the American subsidiary is served, so there was no need for the Convention to come into play.
Brennan, joined by Marshall and Blackmun, dissented from much of the reasoning. They disputed that the Convention was meant to leave all local laws unchallenged, because this would often allow for ineffective service. Nonetheless, Brennan did agree that a wholly owned subsidiary was good enough that international service could be seen as completely unnecessary.
My strongest feeling about this case has nothing to do with any of the legal principles. Instead, my key takeaway is that Volkswagen’s parent company is ridiculously hard to spell.