When you sign a contract with a corporation in a foreign country, you take on a huge risk because foreign lawsuits are much more challenging -- and sometimes even impossible. Whether or not you can sue depends on where the contract was signed and whether it has specific provisions about lawsuits. Depending on your situation, you might need the advice of a foreign lawyer or an American lawyer who specializes in international law.
Consulting the Contract
Your contract provides you with important information about how to sue the other party. Many businesses add choice-of-law clauses to their agreements, and these clauses dictate that a lawsuit must be brought in a specific jurisdiction in the U.S. If you have such a clause, it doesn't matter that the company is a foreign entity, and you won't have to worry about international law. If you don't have such a clause, though, you'll have to be able to demonstrate that the contract was signed in the U.S. Contracts signed in other nations are governed by their courts.
Read More: What is Contract Law?
How to File a Suit
To file your suit, you'll need to draft a complaint itemizing the specific legal violations you allege. In most contract cases, this will mean alleging breach of contract. If you have a choice-of-law clause or can demonstrate that the contract was signed in the U.S., file in the district in which the contract was signed or the one specified by the contract. Simply give the suit to the court clerk and pay the filing fee. If you're filing the suit internationally, you will need to file in the court located in the district in which the other party lives, and you'll likely need an international attorney to help you navigate the process. The international filing process varies from nation to nation.
Serving the Other Party
One of the most significant challenges of suing a foreign entity is serving the other party. Your lawsuit can't proceed until the other party is served, so you'll need to track him down. If he's currently residing in a foreign land, you might need to hire a process server located in that country. If, however, the other party is in the U.S., you can ask the sheriff or a private process server to deliver the suit.
What to Expect
You may end up fighting about the proper jurisdiction and venue, so be prepared to show evidence -- such as a choice-of-law clause or the location in which the contract was signed -- that you've chosen the right place to file the suit. As with any lawsuit, you'll need to present evidence that supports legal arguments. An argument that what the other party did was wrong is insufficient; you have to show with specificity which law was violated. Consequently, it's best to hire an attorney who specializes in contract litigation.
- Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute: Contract
- International Business Law Advisor: International Litigation -- How to File a Lawsuit Against a Foreign Investment Advisor
- Ward and Smith, P.A.: Hide and Seek -- Untangling the Conundrum of Having United States Money Judgments Recognized and Enforced in Foreign Countries
- International Civil Litigation: Gary Born et al.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.