Can a non-citizen file a lawsuit

Welcome to the website of the Federal Foreign Office

The support of German creditors in asserting claims against debtors in the United States is generally not possible for German diplomatic missions abroad. This applies equally to claims from private individuals, lawyers, authorities and courts. Claims are realized by the creditors themselves, if necessary with the assistance of a reputable private service provider, such as a lawyer.

For commercial cases

As part of the debt collection service, the legal department of the German-American Chamber of Commerce in New York helps German and US companies as well as private individuals with the collection of due claims against defaulting debtors in the USA or Germany. The German-American Chamber of Commerce also offers credit reports.

Chamber of Commerce contact details:
German American Chamber of Commerce, Inc.
75 Broad Street, Floor 21 | New York, NY 10004
Phone: (212) 974-8846 | Fax: (212) 974-8867
Email: [email protected].com Website:

Leaflet on the assertion of claims [pdf, 673k]

For the commercial sector, the German-American Chamber of Commerce USA-South (AHK) in Houston, Texas also offers this service, together with credit reports (German and English available):

The chambers of commerce can ask debtors to pay on behalf of German creditors. However, the chambers of commerce have no means of coercion at their disposal. It is advisable to find out about the exact terms and conditions before placing an order.

Collection agencies

Some debt collection agencies are listed here without obligation. It is advisable to find out about the exact terms and conditions before placing an order.
The following information was provided by the following companies.

a) Society for Internationals
Credit protection LIC-Deutschland mbH
P.O. Box 800705
Wiener Platz 4
51065 Cologne
Tel. 0221/617737
Fax 0221/613636

b) Furst and Furst (claims in the economic area)
350 West Passaic Street
Rochelle Park, N.J. 07662
Tel. (201) 587-1100
Fax (201) 587-0189

c) Allen & Associates
Domestic and International Collections
99 Jericho Turnpike
Jericho, New York 11753
Tel. (516) 338-0040
Fax (516) 338-0180

d) National Service Bureau, Inc.
(Offices in Seattle, Miami, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Orange County)

Seattle Service Bureau, Inc.
PO Box 55789
Seattle, WA 98155
Tel. (206) 361-1676 or 1-800-798-1674
Fax (206) 361-6151

Lawsuit in the United States

Legal proceedings

If a party from Germany intends to file a lawsuit in the USA, it is recommended to contact an American lawyer directly. A list of attorneys admitted to practice in the United States can be found on our home page. Timely contact with an attorney is also important because US procedural law recognizes differences between federal law and state law. Therefore, there are completely separate instances at the “state” and at the federal level.

Even more than in German law, American court proceedings are determined by the procedural acts of the parties. The court only has a monitoring function in the filing of complaints (“complaint”), summons (“summons”), replies to the complaint (“answer”) and evidence (“discovery”). The parties are solely responsible for preparing and carrying out the procedural steps.

A process is opened by the service of the application and summons. Usually delivery is effected by personal delivery. However, there are numerous exceptions to this procedural rule. In most cases, it is necessary to consult a lawyer in order to observe the multiple regulations and assess the chances of success.

In preparation for the main hearing, witnesses and parties are questioned on oath by the lawyers without the presence of a judge ("deposition") in the subsequent so-called "discovery procedure". Every opposing lawyer has the right and the duty to cross-examine.

In the United States there is only one main hearing, the “trial”. In this case, six to twelve lay jury members alone have to decide on all questions of fact (also in civil proceedings).

In civil proceedings, the parties can also testify on their own behalf. Since the principle of orality prevails in American law, German parties may have to appear at the American main hearing.

A reimbursement of costs is basically unknown to US procedural law. Apart from minor court fees that may be passed on to the unsuccessful party, each party bears its own costs. Since “discovery” and “trial” require considerable funds, filing a lawsuit in the USA should be carefully considered.

Appeals against New York court decisions in the first instance can be appealed to the “Appellate Division”, to the federal jurisdiction in the “Court of Appeal”. American case law does not recognize an appeal in the German legal sense.

Attorney's fees
The fees for lawyers in the USA are relatively high. There is no lawyer's fee schedule; rather, the remuneration is based on the particular circumstances of the case. It is based on the workload calculated in terms of hours or is based on success (success fee). It is therefore advisable to make a written agreement on the amount of the fee before the mandate is awarded. Success fees can be up to a third (even more) of the value won. In many cases, prepayments of a few hundred dollars are required to cover general expenses. Even if it wins, the party must bear its own legal fees. In general, lawyers only deal with claims in excess of $ 10,000. The procedural assertion of lower amounts is often not economically viable, because a foreign plaintiff is dependent on legal help from a lawyer even in such cases and legal fees in minor cases often exceed the value in dispute.

Court costs
Court costs are comparatively low. They are independent of the amount in dispute and can be passed on to the losing party in the event of victory. Plaintiffs who are resident outside the local jurisdiction of US courts may be required to provide a security deposit at the request of the defendant.

Recognition of titles based on judgments by German courts
German judgments against US-based companies or persons can be converted into local American judgments by way of the so-called "committee" (granting of recognition) and then enforced (similar to the provision of §328 ZPO in the opposite case).

The prerequisites for such recognition are the lawfully delivered summons on the German date (observe the Hague Service Convention!), A legally valid German title and a commitment of the defendant to the Federal Republic of Germany (business activity, driving a motor vehicle, etc.).

The American double judge is prohibited from reviewing the material facts of a German judgment (prohibition of the so-called “revision au fond”).

Default judgments
German default judgments will be recognized in the USA if the above requirements are met and the objection deadline is met in the German procedure. As in Germany, American law also provides for the default judgment to be issued if the lawfully summoned defendant does not appear in time and fails to meet the deadlines.

The chances of success of enforcement can actually be impaired by the fact that the determination of the respective address and the whereabouts of the debtor is associated with difficulties and costs, in particular if he has moved his place of residence to another state in the USA or if a company has changed its postal address. Since there is no registration system or official body in the USA that can provide information on the whereabouts of a debtor, the risk of not being able to determine the debtor's whereabouts or domicile should be considered.

Jurisdiction agreement
The recognition of German choice of court agreements by a local court is not to be expected in every case. Rather, there must be a real connection between the legal transaction on which the claim is based (e.g. contract) and a place for which German jurisdiction is given.