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Law School Case Brief

Republic of Sudan v. Harrison - 139 S. Ct. 1048 (2019)

Rule:

In interpreting a statutory provision, the court begins where all such inquiries must begin: with the language of the statute itself.

Facts:

Respondents, victims of the bombing of the USS Cole and their family members, sued the Republic of Sudan under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA), alleging that Sudan provided material support to al Qaeda for the bombing. A default judgment was entered in their favor after Sudan failed to appear in the litigation. Sudan challenged the orders requiring banks to turn over its assets and pay for the judgment for lack of personal jurisdiction because the service packet was sent to the Sudanese embassy and not to their principal office in Sudan. 

Issue:

Does the service to Sudanese embassy satisfy the jurisdictional requirements of the law?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court reversed, concluding that 28 U.S.C.S. § 1608(a)(3) was not satisfied when a service packet that named the foreign minister was mailed to the foreign state's embassy in the United States. Rather, the most natural reading of the language in § 1608(a)(3) was that service had to be mailed directly to the foreign minister's office in the foreign state. The most natural reading of § 1608(a)(3) was consistent with the common understanding of the terms address and dispatched, was supported by related provisions of 28 U.S.C.S. § 1608, and avoided potential tension with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations;Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act provision authorizing service of civil process on foreign nation by mail addressed and dispatched to head of ministry of foreign affairs--required mailing directly to foreign minister's office in foreign state. This was not satisfied when a service packet that named the foreign minister was mailed to the foreign state’s embassy in the United States.

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