I just had an opportunity to read an interesting little decision from a couple of weeks ago by the New York Court of Appeals. It involved the French fashion designer John Galliano. It seems that Mr. Galliano entered into a licensing agreement for various products in the U.S. with a company known as Stallion, Inc. After a dispute regarding how much money was owed by each side to the other, Mr. Galliano sued Stallion in the Paris courts in 2002. (The contract had specified that any disputes should go before the French courts – yet again why I trumpet/warn you all about these clauses.) Stallion was served with notice of the lawsuit but decided not to put forward a defense in Paris. Not surprisingly, Mr. Galliano obtained a default judgment and Stallion waited for Galliano to try and enforce the judgment in New York – which is what Mr. Galliano proceeded to do.
In opposition to the action by Mr. Galliano to have the New York Courts recognize the Paris judgment, Stallion tried to argue that certain technical defences applied. The New York Courts gave short shrift to these arguments. What was interesting, though, was that Stallion also argued that the process was unfair, and ought to be overturned, because the papers that it had been served giving it notice of the lawsuit in France were written in French and had not been translated into English. The Court of Appeals gave even shorter shrift to this argument and found that since Stallion had been personally served that this was sufficient – even though there was no English translation provided.
So, the next time you get served with something that looks official but isn’t in English, you might want to take a trip right away to a translator or interpreter’s office and find out exactly what it says. Hmmm, mais où est-ce qu’on peut trouver un avocat qui peut lire et parler le français? [Transl: "Hmmm, but where can one find a lawyer who can read and speak French?"] Did I mention my phone number and e-mail address? Let’s see, given the number of times that a New York client is going to be sued by a French company and suddenly find itself in need of a lawyer who can read the French documents … yeah, I won’t hold my breath or sit by the phone in anxious anticipation.