Jam v. International Finance Corp.

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Sovereign Immunity
  • Date Filed: February 27, 2019
  • Case #: 17-1011
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: ROBERTS, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which THOMAS, GINSBURG, ALITO, SOTOMAYOR, KAGAN, and GORSUCH, JJ., joined. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion. KAVANAUGH J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the International Organizations Immunities Act of 1945 (IOIA), international organizations enjoy the same privileges and immunities as enjoyed by foreign governments, as such the immunity of international organizations is tethered to changes in immunity of foreign governments.

Petitioners, Indian farmers and fisherman, brought suit for pollution created by a power plant financed by Respondent, an international development bank with 184 member countries. Respondents prevailed in the District Court and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. The Circuit Court reasoned that the immunity of international organizations as determined by the International Organizations Immunities Act (IOIA) in 1945 remains unchanged, making Respondent immune from suit. 22 U.S.C. § 288a(b). The United States Supreme Court reversed, holding that the language of the IOIA did not create static rights for international organizations, rather it tethered the privileges and immunities of international organizations to those of foreign governments. Specifically, the Court held that the language of the IOIA which stated that international organizations retained the “same immunity from suit . . . as enjoyed by foreign governments” should be read using the reference canon which instructs courts to look up the related rules wherever they may be found. Of importance in this case is the 1952 State Department adoption of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which limits, among other things, foreign immunity when a government acts as a private commercial player. 28 U.S.C. §§1602, 1605(a)(2).  REVERSED and REMANDED.

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