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Jam v. Int'l Fin. Corp.

Supreme Court of the United States

October 31, 2018, Argued; February 27, 2019, Decided

No. 17-1011.

Opinion

 [*764]  [**58]   Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court.

The International Organizations Immunities Act of 1945 grants international organizations such as the World Bank and the World Health Organization the “same immunity from suit . . . as is enjoyed by foreign governments.” 22 U. S. C. §288a(b) [*765]  . At the time the IOIA was enacted, foreign governments enjoyed virtually absolute immunity from suit. Today that immunity is more limited. Most significantly, foreign governments are not immune from actions based upon certain kinds of commercial activity in which they engage. This case requires us to determine whether the IOIA grants international organizations the virtually absolute immunity foreign governments enjoyed when the IOIA was enacted, [***6]  or the more limited immunity they enjoy today.

Respondent International Finance Corporation is an international organization headquartered in the United States. The IFC finances private-sector development projects in poor and developing countries around the world. About 10 years ago, the IFC financed the construction of a power plant in Gujarat, India. Petitioners are local farmers and fishermen and a small village. They allege that the power plant has polluted the air, land, and water in the surrounding area. Petitioners sued the IFC for damages and injunctive relief in Federal District Court, but the IFC claimed absolute immunity from suit. Petitioners argued that the IFC was entitled under the IOIA only to the limited or “restrictive” immunity that foreign governments currently enjoy. We agree.

In the wake of World War II, the United States and many of its allies joined together to establish a host of new international organizations. Those organizations, which included the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, were designed to allow member countries to collectively pursue goals such as stabilizing the international economy, rebuilding war-torn nations, [***7]  and maintaining international peace and security.

Anticipating that those and other international organizations would locate their headquarters in the United States, Congress passed the International Organizations Immunities Act of 1945, 59 Stat. 669. The Act grants international organizations a set of privileges and immunities, such as immunity from search and exemption from property taxes. 22 U. S. C. §§288a(c), 288c.

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139 S. Ct. 759 *; 203 L. Ed. 2d 53 **; 2019 U.S. LEXIS 1594 ***; 49 ELR 20033; 86 ERC (BNA) 3907; 27 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 670; 2019 WL 938524

BUDHA ISMAIL JAM, et al., Petitioners v. INTERNATIONAL FINANCE CORPORATION

Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.

Subsequent History: As revised July 16, 2019.

Prior History:  [***1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT

Jam v. Int'l Fin. Corp., 860 F.3d 703, 429 U.S. App. D.C. 410, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 11160 (D.C. Cir., June 23, 2017)

Disposition: 860 F. 3d 703, 429 U.S. App. D.C. 410, reversed and remanded.

CORE TERMS

immunity, organizations, foreign government, enjoyed, commercial activity, courts, international organization, lawsuit, privileges, absolute immunity, words, foreign sovereign immunities, Finance, dynamic, immunity from suit, canon, static, purposes, multilateral, contracts, cases, plant, sovereign, Charter, changes, fulfill, international development, incorporates, interpreting, linguistic

International Law, Foreign & International Immunity, Sovereign Immunity, International Organizations, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Construction & Interpretation, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation