Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in International Law

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The DC Circuit held that the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today Act (PROTECT Act) was constitutional as applied to defendant, who was indicted for producing child pornography and sexually abusing a child while residing in Vietnam in 2015. The court reversed the district court's dismissal of the indictment and held that each of the provisions of the Act that defendant challenged was rationally related to implementing the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. The court held that the provisions of the PROTECT Act that criminalize child sexual abuse and production of child pornography by U.S. citizens living abroad help to fulfill the United States' responsibility under the Optional Protocol to criminalize, "as a minimum," child prostitution and child pornography production by U.S. nationals wherever that conduct occurs. Furthermore, the Foreign Commerce Clause supports application of U.S. law to economic activity abroad that could otherwise impair the effectiveness of a comprehensive regulatory regime to eliminate the sexual exploitation of children. View "United States v. Park" on Justia Law

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The United States government thought that three banks, headquartered in China, held records that might clarify how North Korea finances its nuclear weapons program. After the government subpoenaed those records, the Banks resisted and claimed that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction, that the Patriot Act subpoena exceeded the government's statutory authority, and that compelling production would run afoul of comity principles. The district court overruled the Banks' objections and subsequently held the Banks in civil contempt for failing to produce the requested records. The DC Circuit affirmed the contempt orders, holding that the Banks' jurisdictional challenges were meritless where Banks One and Two consented to jurisdiction when they opened branches in the United States and, although Bank Three has no U.S. branch and executed no such agreement, its choice to maintain correspondent accounts in the United States established an adequate connection to the forum and the enforcement action to sustain jurisdiction. The court also held that records "related to" a U.S. correspondent account, under 31 U.SC. 5318(k)(3)(A)(i), include records of transactions that do not themselves pass through a correspondent account when those transactions are in service of an enterprise entirely dedicated to obtaining access to U.S. currency and markets using a U.S. correspondent account. In this case, Bank Three's subpoena under the Patriot Act did not exceed the Attorney General's statutory authority, because all records pertaining to the Company's Bank Three account and its correspondent banking transactions, no matter where they occurred, are "related to" the Bank's U.S. correspondent accounts. In regard to the Banks' comity concerns, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by enforcing the subpoenas despite the fact that the United States chose not to pursue the process designated in the Mutual Legal Assistance Agreement (MLAA) between the United States and China. Finally, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by issuing the civil contempt orders in light of the circumstances. View "In re: Sealed Case" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an international businessman who resides in Missouri, filed this suit against defendant, the investment and wealth fund of one of the United Arab Emirates, Ras Al Khaimah (RAK), alleging that defendant violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and committed the common law torts of conversion and unfair competition when it hacked plaintiff's computers. Plaintiff and defendants previously entered into a broad settlement agreement where they agreed to litigate all future, related claims in England. The DC Circuit held that the forum selection clause was mandatory and applied to plaintiff's claims, and the parties did not dispute that the clause was valid and enforceable. The court also held that the public interest factors that plaintiff raised to support his claim that transferring the case to England was unwarranted, did not defeat the forum selection clause. The court explained that the public did not have an interest in keeping U.S.-based disputes that turn on U.S. law in our courts. In this case, the Settlement Agreement provides that English Law will govern all disputes subject to the forum selection clause. Furthermore, judicial economy and administrative convenience point towards resolving the parties' claims in the same forum. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's decision to the contrary. View "Azima v. Rak Investment Authority" on Justia Law

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After originally hearing this appeal, the DC Circuit certified to the DC Court of Appeals the following question regarding plaintiffs' intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) claims: "Must a claimant alleging emotional distress arising from a terrorist attack that killed or injured a family member have been present at the scene of the attack in order to state a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress?" The DC Court of Appeals answered the question in the negative. The court rejected Sudan's arguments and affirmed the default judgments with respect to plaintiffs' IIED claims. In this case, Sudan's objections to the DC court's exception to the presence requirement all presume that DC law treats state actors differently from non-state actors. The court rejected Sudan's interpretation of the DC court's holding and did not reach the substantive question whether it would be impermissible for the DC court to single out certain foreign sovereigns for IIED liability in terrorism cases. View "Owens v. Republic of Sudan" on Justia Law

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After Esther Klieman was killed in a terrorist attack on an Israeli public bus, plaintiffs filed suit under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), among other laws. The district court dismissed the case against the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) for want of personal jurisdiction. The DC Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in agreeing, in light of the intervening Supreme Court case of Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117 (2014), to reconsider its earlier ruling that the district court had general personal jurisdiction over defendants. The court held that Daimler, and circuit precedent, effectively foreclosed a ruling that the district court had general jurisdiction over the PA/PLO; plaintiffs' prima facie case for specific jurisdiction did not meet the Constitution's requirements; and plaintiffs have neither established the circumstances rendering section 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018 applicable nor facts justifying a remand for discovery on the issue. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's decision. View "Estate of Esther Klieman v. Palestinian Authority" on Justia Law

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In this consolidated opinion, the DC Circuit addressed cases arising from the Beirut, Nairobi, and Dar es Salaam terrorist attacks. On appeal, plaintiffs challenged the district court's dismissals of their claims against Iran, contending that the district courts erred in raising the statute of limitations sua sponte and in dismissing their complaints as untimely. One group of plaintiffs challenged the denial of motions for relief from judgment that they filed after their claims were dismissed. The DC Circuit did not reach the statute of limitations issue or the postjudgment motions. Rather, the court held that the district court lacks authority to sua sponte raise a forfeited statute of limitations defense in a Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) terrorism exception case, at least where the defendant sovereign fails to appear. Accordingly, the court reversed the district courts' judgments, vacated the dismissals of the complaint, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Maalouf v. Islamic Republic of Iran" on Justia Law

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In 2010, the widow of a Taiwanese plastics magnate and billionaire filed suit against the trusts created before her husband's death, alleging that the transfer of a large portion of her husband's assets to the trusts unlawfully denied her the full marital estate to which she was entitled. The district court ultimately granted, subject to conditions, the trusts' motion to dismiss the complaint on forum non conveniens grounds. The DC Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that the district court failed to give appropriate weight to the widow's legitimate choice of forum and erred in concluding that the private interest factors weighed slightly in favor of dismissal and in overemphasizing the public interest factors in deciding to dismiss this case on forum non conveniens grounds. In this case, the trusts failed to meet its heavy burden of showing that suit in the United States was so inconvenient as to be harassing, vexing, or oppressive. The court held that, the district court's errors, considered together, constituted a clear abuse of discretion. View "Shi v. New Mighty U.S. Trust" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an American citizen, filed suit under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 (TVPA), against two foreign officials from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for alleged torture. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to the foreign official immunity doctrine. The DC Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal and held that defendants were not entitled to conduct-based foreign official immunity under the common law. In this case, defendants were being sued in their individual capacities and plaintiff was not seeking compensation of state funds. The court explained that, in cases like this one, in which the plaintiff pursues an individual-capacity claim seeking relief against an official in a personal capacity, exercising jurisdiction did not enforce a rule against the foreign state. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Lewis v. Mutond" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, Palestinians who mostly reside in the disputed West Bank territory, sued pro-Israeli American citizens and entities, including a former U.S. deputy national security advisor, claiming that the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to expel all non-Jews from the territory by providing financial and construction assistance to “settlements” and that the defendants knew their conduct would result in the mass killings of Palestinians. The claims cited the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. 1350; American-citizen plaintiffs also brought claims under the Torture Victim Protection Act, Pub. L. No. 102-256. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that the complaint raised nonjusticiable political questions. The D.C. Circuit reversed after holding that the court correctly treated the issue as jurisdictional. The court first identified two relevant questions: Who has sovereignty over the disputed territory Are Israeli settlers committing genocide? The court then applied the Supreme Court’s “Baker" factors, concluded that the only political question concerned who has sovereignty, and held that the question is extricable because a court could rule in the plaintiffs’ favor without addressing who has sovereignty if it concluded that Israeli settlers are committing genocide. If it becomes clear at a later stage that resolving any of the claims requires a sovereignty determination, those claims can be dismissed. View "Al-Tamimi v. Adelson" on Justia Law

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Assuming the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act's immunity applies, the DC Circuit held that it leaves intact the district courts' subject-matter jurisdiction over federal criminal cases involving foreign sovereigns. The court affirmed the district court's order holding the subpoena's target, a corporation owned by a foreign sovereign, in contempt for failure to comply. In this case, the court held that there was a reasonable probability the information sought through the subpoena at issue concerned a commercial activity that caused a direct effect in the United States. The court held that the Act, even where it applies, allows courts to exercise jurisdiction over such activities and the ancillary challenges in this appeal lacked merit. View "In re: Grand Jury Subpoena" on Justia Law