Civil Procedure to the Rescue: Suing the Big Guys


The NY Times has a small entry about a frequent problem: lack of customer support for a computer (scroll down to “You Got Served” to read the entry). In this case, the customer apparently tried to use Dell Computer’s customer service resources for five months including 19 phone calls. When those attempts failed to result in a fixed or new computer, he sued Dell. The catch: he provided service of the lawsuit via a kiosk in a mall. Dell failed to appear, and the customer won a default judgment of $3,000.

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5 Responses

  1. John Armstrong says:

    As much as I like to see Dell get theirs, how exactly is this at all reasonable? You can officially serve notice to a corporation at any place it does business, even if half the time said place of business is solely staffed by a 17-year-old who’d rather get work release from fourth period than take remedial algebra 3?

  2. Anthony Jurek says:

    How is it not fair? It has to be a one way screwing? The 17 year old can provide you with crappy service, but can’t be a crappy notice recipient for the corporation? I’m thinking that if the corporation is rolling the dice by 1) making a crappy product and nonetheless 2) choosing to do business in the U.S., 3) having non-existant customer service then 4) hiring cut-rate labor, they simply need to take their cost benefit analysis to the next level. Is hiring a 17 year old for $4.50 an hour still worth it? Or should they maybe shore up 1) their product, 2) their customer service, or 3) their employees?

  3. Bruce Boyden says:

    Here’s the rule:

    4:4-4(a) Primary Method of Obtaining In Personam Jurisdiction. The primary method of obtaining in personam jurisdiction over a defendant in this State is by causing the summons and complaint to be personally served within this State pursuant to R. 4:4-3, as follows:

    . . .

    (6) Upon a corporation, by serving a copy of the summons and complaint in the manner prescribed by paragraph (a)(1) of this rule on any officer, director, trustee or managing or general agent, or any person authorized by appointment or by law to receive service of process on behalf of the corporation, or on a person at the registered office of the corporation in charge thereof, or, if service cannot be made on any of those persons, then on a person at the principal place of business of the corporation in this State in charge thereof, or if there is no place of business in this State, then on any employee of the corporation within this State acting in the discharge of his or her duties, provided, however, that a foreign corporation may be served only as herein prescribed subject to due process of law . . . .

  4. bill says:

    If I could serve a DeBeers exec as he transits through Kennedy, certainly I can serve Dell at their semi-permanent place of business whether it be kiosk, strip mall or whatever.

    In personam jurisdiction derives from being under the jurisdiction of the sovereign (including pipsqueak but jurisdictionally important states like Delaware) whose constitutionally-authorized courts you subject yourself to by your voluntary presence. Not some notion of making things easier for Dell by forcing plaintiffs to track down the GC in Austin.

  5. Tim says:

    I posted this article on my civil procedure class discussion page and got this response from my professor under the heading “not so clever”

    “The method of service was likely inadequate under both federal and state law. If so, the default judgment could be set aside. If Dell settled it was because it wanted to, not because it had to.”

    Thats the last time I try and contribute to class discussion