Service of Process in Thailand and the U.S.

Civil lawsuits in most jurisdictions and cases start by filing a document often referred to as a complaint and then “serving” a copy of that document (and perhaps other documents) on the defendant. This is certainly true in Thailand and the U.S. But the manner in which service occurs in Thailand and the U.S. differs substantially and this can create major differences when deciding if litigation in a particular jurisdiction is worth the time and cost. In Thailand, when a complaint is filed, the court makes a cursory examination of the complaint to see if it will accept the case (it typically does) and then forwards the complaint to a department of the government known as the Legal Execution Office.This body is responsible for serving civil complaints in Thailand. The manner in which service may occur in Thailand is set out in Thailand’s Civil Procedure Code (CPC), which sets out specific means by which an officer from the Legal Execution office may serve a complaint.

By contrast, when a complaint is filed in the U.S., there is typically no judicial review of the complaint to see if it is acceptable, and a private party, unrelated to the plaintiff, can serve the complaint. A government officer, typically a sheriff or marshal (or one of their deputies) can also serve a complaint, but government officers are typically not involved in serving complaints, absent special circumstances (e.g., the plaintiff thinks it would be dangerous to serve a complaint on the defendant).

Although they have to comply with the legal requirements for effecting service, plaintiffs in the U.S. normally have control over how complaints are served and they have become increasingly creative in how they serve complaints, particularly on parties that are trying to evade service. In the past, process servers might go so far as to pose a pizza delivery man to effect service on an evasive defendant.

Times have changed. Now some U.S. courts are allowing plaintiffs to use electronic means and even social media to effect service. Reasoning that “email has all but replaced ordinary mail as a means of written communication”, one New York Court said: “courts are now routinely permitting [email] as a form of alternative service.” Not surprisingly, this is irrelevant to service of Thai complaints since Thai law does not permit and, as a practical matter, personnel from the Execution Office is not going to serve complaints dressed as a pizza delivery men, let alone serving a complaint by electronic means. In our next installment on service of process, we will explore whether a complaint filed in a U.S. Court could be served by electronic means on a Thai defendant and how – notwithstanding the refusal of Thai courts to recognize or enforce U.S. judgments – creative counsel can use these changes to more effectively enforce U.S. judgments against Thai parties.