Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in International Law
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Plaintiffs filed suit against Sudan after the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole and the district court found Sudan liable under the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA), 46 U.S.C. 30301 et seq. On appeal, plaintiffs challenged the district court's conclusion that the DOHSA action precluded their subsequent federal cause of action under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 28 U.S.C. 1605. The court concluded that the various provisions of section 1083 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (NDAA), Pub. L. No. 110-181, 122 Stat. 3, were inapplicable here and, therefore, the court declined to consider the constitutionality of NDAA section 1083; the district court did not abuse its discretion when, as part of a close look, considered sua sponte whether res judicata barred plaintiffs' claims; but the court concluded, however, that res judicata should not apply here. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Clodfelter v. Republic of Sudan" on Justia Law

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Petitioner initiated this action for wrongful removal under the Hague Convention, seeking the return of his son to Switzerland. The district court found that respondent breached no rights of custody in removing the child and denied the petition for return. Respondent had sole custody of her son when she traveled with him to the United States and Swiss law gave her a unilateral right to remove the child while he was in her sole custody. Petitioner failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that respondent's removal of the child abused her rights under Swiss law or breached any rights of custody petitioner held at the time of removal. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "White v. White" on Justia Law

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Albert DiFederico, a former naval commander, was serving as a civilian contractor for the State Department in Pakistan when he was killed in a terrorist attack on the Marriott Islamabad Hotel. His widow and their three sons brought this wrongful death action and survivorship claim alleging that Marriott was liable for its failure to adequately secure its franchise hotel. The district court granted Marriott's motion to dismiss on the basis of forum non conveniens, finding that Pakistan was an available, adequate, and far more convenient forum to hear the case. Plaintiffs brought their suit in the forum of Marriott's principal place of business, the District of Maryland. The court found that plaintiffs were entitled to heightened deference in their choice of forum. The court concluded that it would be a perversion of justice to force a widow and her children to place themselves in the same risk-laden situation that led to the death of a family member. Plaintiffs were inconvenienced by the fear, emotional trauma, and associated logistical complexity that would afflict them if this case were dismissed and decided in Pakistan. The court's review of several of the applicable public and private factors provided additional support for the court's conclusion that the district court abused its discretion in dismissing the case. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "DiFederico v. Marriott Int'l, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, natives of Somalia and members of the Isaaq clan, alleged that they or members of their families were subject to torture, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial killings by government agents under the command and control of defendant, a former high-ranking government official in Somalia. At issue was whether defendant was immune from suit under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 (TVPA), 28 U.S.C. 1350, and the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), 28 U.S.C. 1350. The court gave deference to the State Department's position on status-based immunity doctrines such as head-of-state immunity but, in contrast, the State Department's determination regarding conduct-based immunity was not controlling but carried substantial weight in the court's analysis. Because this case involved acts that violated jus cogens norms, the court concluded that defendant was not entitled to conduct-based official immunity under the common law. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of both head-of-state and foreign official immunity to defendant. View "Yousuf v. Samantar" on Justia Law

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The Guild purchased twenty-three ancient Chinese and Cypriot coins from a dealer in London and subsequently challenged the seizure of the coins when it attempted to import them. On appeal, the Guild asked the court to engage in a review of the government's implementation of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act's (CPIA), 19 U.S.C. 2601-2613, import restrictions on Chinese and Cypriot cultural property. The court concluded that the suit sought to have the judiciary assume a role that the statute did not intend for the court to assume. The court reviewed the Guild's various claims and found them to be without merit. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's interpretation of the CPIA and affirmed its grant of the government's motion to dismiss. View "Ancient Coin Collectors Guild v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, et al." on Justia Law

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Defendants, all Somalis, were convicted, among other things, of the crime of piracy under 18 U.S.C. 1651 after they launched an attack on the USS Nicholas on the high seas between Somalia and the Seychelles. On appeal, defendants challenged their convictions and sentences on several grounds, including that their attack on the USS Nicholas did not, as a matter of law, amount to a section 1651 piracy offense. Because the district court correctly applied the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, art. 101, definition of piracy as customary international law, the court rejected defendants' challenge to their Count One piracy convictions, as well as their mandatory life sentences. Defendants raised several additional appellate contentions which the court also rejected. Accordingly, the court affirmed the convictions and sentences of each of the defendants. View "United States v. Dire; United States v. Ali; United States v. Umar; United States v. Gurewardher; United States v. Hasan" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of a contract entered into by Iraq's Ministry of Defense (IMOD) and Wye Oak for the refurbishment and disposal of Iraqi military equipment. At issue was whether, for purposes of analyzing subject matter jurisdiction under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 28 U.S.C. 1602-11, a foreign state and its armed forces were separate legal persons. The court concluded that, for jurisdictional purposes, they were not. Therefore, the court held that Wye Oak's claim against Iraq alleging breach of contract entered into by IMOD fell within the FSIA's commercial activities exception. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of Iraq's motion to dismiss Wye Oak's claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "Wye Oak Technology, Inc. v. Republic of Iraq" on Justia Law

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Appellants filed a class action, alleging that defendant, a chemical manufacturer, sold thiodiglycol (TDG) to Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime, which then used it to manufacture mustard gas to kill Kurdish enclaves in northern Iraq during the late 1980's. At issue was whether appellants have alleged viable claims under the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), 28 U.S.C. 1350, or the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), 28 U.S.C. 1350. The court held that the TVPA excluded corporations from liability. The court also held that the ATS imposed liability for aiding and abetting violations of international law, but only if the attendant conduct was purposeful. Appellants, however, have failed to plead facts sufficient to support the intent element of their ATS claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of defendant's motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).

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Plaintiffs, citizens and residents of China, alleged that they were injured by melamine-contaminated infant formula in China. Defendant, among others, manufactured and distributed the contaminated products exclusively to China. At issue was the district court's forum non conveniens dismissal. The court held that defendant carried its burden and showed that plaintiffs could obtain a remedy for their injuries either from the Chinese courts or a fund established by the Chinese government to compensate the children and families affected by contaminated infant formula (the Fund). Therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that China was an adequate alternative forum and the district court did not err by weighing the public and private interest factors, finding that China was a more convenient forum in which to adjudicate the dispute. Accordingly, the district court's forum non conveniens dismissal was not an abuse of discretion.