Service of Process

Author:International Law Group

In copyright suit against Costa Rican company, Ninth Circuit rules that, under circumstances, plaintiff's court-authorized use of e- mail service of process to reach evasive defendant was proper under Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(f) and under due process standards


Las Vegas hotel and casino operator Rio Properties, Inc. ("RIO") [plaintiff] sued Rio International Interlink ("RII") [defendant], a foreign Internet business entity, asserting various statutory and common law trademark infringement claims. Plaintiff owns the elegant RIO All Suite Casino Resort in Las Vegas. Plaintiff's gambling empire also includes the Rio Race & Sports Book where customers can wager on professional sports. To secure legal protection for its rights in the name "RIO," plaintiff registered many trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It also registered its Internet domain name, This website tells prospective customers about its hotel and enables them to make reservations.

Defendant RII is a Costa Rican entity that takes part in an Internet sports gambling operation. It does business variously as Rio International Sportsbook, Rio Online Sportsbook, or Rio International Sports. Defendant's customers can wager on sporting events either online or by using a 1-800 telephone number.

In 1998, plaintiff found out about defendant's existence when it noticed an ad in the Football Betting Guide '98 Preview. The Nevada edition of the Daily Racing Form bore an ad wherein defendant invited customers to visit defendant's website, Plaintiff fired off a cease-and-desist letter involving the website. Without responding, defendant promptly disabled the objectionable website. Defendant then put into operation the URL, where it hosted an identical sports gambling operation. Upset, plaintiff sued defendant claiming various trademark infringements and trying to enjoin defendant from the continued use of the name "RIO." When plaintiff tried to serve defendant with process in the U.S., it sent the complaint and summons to defendant's international courier, IEC. Though ostensibly not authorized to accept service on defendant's behalf, IEC did agree to send the summons and complaint to defendant's Costa Rican courier.

Los Angeles attorney John Carpenter telephoned plaintiff to find out what the suit was about. (Defendant had presumably gotten the process papers from IEC and had consulted Carpenter). Plaintiff promised to send Carpenter a complete copy of the complaint. The latter, however, courteously refused to accept service on defendant's behalf.

Plaintiff's attempts to perfect U.S. service having failed, it scoured international databases to find...

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