Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Republic of Sudan v. Harrison

United States Supreme Court

March 26, 2019

REPUBLIC OF SUDAN, PETITIONER
v.
RICK HARRISON, ET AL.

          Argued November 7, 2018

          ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

         The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA) generally immunizes foreign states from suit in this country unless one of several enumerated exceptions to immunity applies. 28 U.S.C. §§1604, 1605-1607. If an exception applies, the FSIA provides subject-matter jurisdiction in federal district court, §1330(a), and personal jurisdiction "where service has been made under section 1608," §1330(b). Section 1608(a) provides four methods of serving civil process, including, as relevant here, service "by any form of mail requiring a signed receipt, to be addressed and dispatched ... to the head of the ministry of foreign affairs of the foreign state concerned," §1608(a)(3).

         Respondents, victims of the bombing of the USS Cole and their family members, sued the Republic of Sudan under the FSIA, alleging that Sudan provided material support to al Qaeda for the bombing. The court clerk, at respondents' request, addressed the service packet to Sudan's Minister of Foreign Affairs at the Sudanese Embassy in the United States and later certified that a signed receipt had been returned. After Sudan failed to appear in the litigation, the District Court entered a default judgment for respondents and subsequently issued three orders requiring banks to turn over Sudanese assets to pay the judgment. Sudan challenged those orders, arguing that the judgment was invalid for lack of personal jurisdiction, because § 1608(a)(3) required that the service packet be sent to its foreign minister at his principal office in Sudan, not to the Sudanese Embassy in the United States. The Second Circuit affirmed, reasoning that the statute was silent on where the mailing must be sent and that the method chosen was consistent with the statute's language and could be reasonably expected to result in delivery to the foreign minister.

         Held: Most naturally read, § 1608(a)(3) requires a mailing to be sent directly to the foreign minister's office in the foreign state. Pp. 5-17.

         (a)A letter or package is "addressed" to an intended recipient when his or her name and address are placed on the outside. The noun "address" means "a residence or place of business." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 25. A foreign nation's embassy in the United States is neither the residence nor the usual place of business of that nation's foreign minister. Similarly, to "dispatch" a letter to an addressee connotes sending it directly. It is also significant that service under § 1608(a)(3) requires a signed returned receipt to ensure delivery to the addressee. Pp. 5-9.

         (b) Several related provisions in §1608 support this reading. Section 1608(b)(3)(B) contains similar "addressed and dispatched" language, but also says that service by its method is permissible "if reasonably calculated to give actual notice." Respondents' suggestion that § 1608(a)(3) embodies a similar standard runs up against well-settled principles of statutory interpretation. See Department of Homeland Security v. MacLean, 574 U.S. ___, ___, and Mackey v. Lanier Collection Agency & Service, Inc., 486 U.S. 825, 837. Section 1608(b)(2) expressly allows service on an agent, specifies the particular individuals who are permitted to be served as agents of the recipient, and makes clear that service on the agent may occur in the United States. Congress could have included similar terms in § 1608(a)(3) had it intended the provision to operate in this manner. Section 1608(c) deems service to have occurred under all methods only when there is a strong basis for concluding that the service packet will very shortly thereafter come into the hands of a foreign official who will know what needs to be done. Under § 1608(a)(3), that occurs when the person who receives it from the carrier signs for it. Interpreting §1608(a)(3) to require that a service packet be sent to a foreign minister's own office rather than to a mailroom employee in a foreign embassy better harmonizes the rules for determining when service occurs. Pp. 9-13.

         (c)This reading of § 1608(a)(3) avoids potential tension with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. If mailing a service packet to a foreign state's embassy in the United States were sufficient, then it would appear to be easier to serve the foreign state than to serve a person in that foreign state under Rule 4. The natural reading of §1608(a)(3) also avoids the potential international implications arising from the State Department's position that the Convention's principle of inviolability precludes serving a foreign state by mailing process to the foreign state's embassy in the United States. Pp. 13-15.

         (d) Respondents' remaining arguments are unavailing. First, their suggestion that §1608(a)(3) demands that service be sent "to a location that is likely to have a direct line of communication to the foreign minister" creates difficult line-drawing problems that counsel in favor of maintaining a clear, administrable rule. Second, their claim that §1608(a)(4)-which requires that process be sent to the Secretary of State in "Washington, District of Columbia"-shows that Congress did not intend § 1608(a)(3) to have a similar locational requirement is outweighed by the countervailing arguments already noted. Finally, they contend that it would be unfair to throw out their judgment based on petitioner's highly technical and belatedly raised argument. But in cases with sensitive diplomatic implications, the rule of law demands adherence to strict rules, even when the equities seem to point in the opposite direction. Pp. 15-17.

802 F.3d 399, reversed and remanded.

          ROBERTS, C. J., and Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kav-ANAUGH, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          ALITO JUSTICE.

         This case concerns the requirements applicable to a particular method of serving civil process on a foreign state. Under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA), a foreign state may be served by means of a mailing that is "addressed and dispatched ... to the head of the ministry of foreign affairs of the foreign state concerned." 28 U.S.C. § 1608(a)(3). The question now before us is whether this provision is satisfied when a service packet that names the foreign minister is mailed to the foreign state's embassy in the United States. We hold that it is not. Most naturally read, § 1608(a)(3) requires that a mailing be sent directly to the foreign minister's office in the minister's home country.

         I

         A

         Under the FSIA, a foreign state is immune from the jurisdiction of courts in this country unless one of several enumerated exceptions to immunity applies. 28 U.S.C. §§1604, 1605-1607. If a suit falls within one of these exceptions, the FSIA provides subject-matter jurisdiction in federal district courts. § 1330(a). The FSIA also provides for personal jurisdiction "where service has been made under section 1608." § 1330(b).

         Section 1608(a) governs service of process on "a foreign state or political subdivision of a foreign state." § 1608(a); Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 4(j)(1). In particular, it sets out in hierarchical order the following four methods by which "[s]ervice . . . shall be made." 28 U.S.C. § 1608(a). The first method is by delivery of a copy of the summons and complaint "in accordance with any special arrangement for service between the plaintiff and the foreign state or political subdivision." § 1608(a)(1). "[I]f no special arrangement exists," service may be made by the second method, namely, delivery of a copy of the summons and complaint "in accordance with an applicable international convention on service of judicial documents." §1608(a)(2). If service is not possible under either of the first two methods, the third method, which is the one at issue in this case, may be used. This method calls for

"sending a copy of the summons and complaint and a notice of suit, together with a translation of each into the official language of the foreign state, by any form of mail requiring a signed receipt, to be addressed and dispatched by the clerk of the court to the head of the ministry of foreign affairs of the foreign state concerned." §1608(a)(3) (emphasis added).

         Finally, if service cannot be made within 30 days under § 1608(a)(3), service may be effected by sending the service packet "by any form of mail requiring a signed receipt, to be addressed and dispatched by the clerk of the court to the Secretary of State in Washington, District of Columbia," for transmittal "through diplomatic channels to the foreign state." § 1608(a)(4).

         Once served, a foreign state or political subdivision has 60 days to file a responsive pleading. § 1608(d). If the foreign state or political subdivision does not do this, it runs the risk of incurring a default judgment. See § 1608(e). A copy of any such default judgment must be "sent to the foreign state or political subdivision in the [same] manner prescribed for service." Ibid.

         B

         On October 12, 2000, the USS Cole, a United States Navy guided-missile destroyer, entered the harbor of Aden, Yemen, for what was intended to be a brief refueling stop. While refueling was underway, a small boat drew along the side of the Cole, and the occupants of the boat detonated explosives that tore a hole in the side of the Cole. Seventeen crewmembers were killed, and dozens more were injured. Al Qaeda later claimed responsibility for the attack.

         Respondents in this case are victims of the USS Cole bombing and their family members. In 2010, respondents sued petitioner, the Republic of Sudan, alleging that Sudan had provided material support to al Qaeda for the bombing. See 28 U.S.C. §§1605A(a)(1), (c). Because respondents brought suit under the FSIA, they were required to serve Sudan with process under § 1608(a). It is undisputed that service could not be made under § 1608(a)(1) or § 1608(a)(2), and respondents therefore turned to § 1608(a)(3). At respondents' request, the clerk of the court sent the service packet, return receipt requested, to: "Republic of Sudan, Deng Alor Koul, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Embassy of the Republic of Sudan, 2210 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008." App. 172. The clerk certified that the service packet had been sent and, a few days later, certified that a signed receipt had been returned.[1] After Sudan failed to appear in the litigation, the District Court for the District of Columbia held an evidentiary hearing and entered a $314 million default judgment against Sudan. Again at respondents' request, the clerk of the court mailed a copy of the default judgment in the same manner that the clerk had previously used. See § 1608(e).

         With their default judgment in hand, respondents turned to the District Court for the Southern District of New York, where they sought to register the judgment and satisfy it through orders requiring several banks to turn over Sudanese assets. See 28 U.S.C. §1963 (providing for registration of judgments for enforcement in other districts). Pursuant to §1610(c), the District Court entered an order confirming that a sufficient period of time had elapsed following the entry and notice of the default judgment, and the court then issued three turnover orders.

         At this point, Sudan made an appearance for the purpose of contesting jurisdiction. It filed a notice of appeal from each of the three turnover orders and contended on appeal that the default judgment was invalid for lack of personal jurisdiction. In particular, Sudan maintained that § 1608(a)(3) required that the service packet be sent to its foreign minister at his principal office in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, and not to the Sudanese Embassy in the United States.

         The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected this argument and affirmed the orders of the District Court. 802 F.3d 399 (2015). The Second Circuit reasoned that, although § 1608(a)(3) requires that a service packet be mailed "to the head of the ministry of foreign affairs of the foreign state concerned," the statute "is silent as to a specific location where the mailing is to be addressed." Id., at 404. In light of this, the court concluded that "the method chosen by plaintiffs-a mailing addressed to the minister of foreign affairs at the embassy-was consistent with the language of the statute and could reasonably be expected to result in delivery to the intended person." Ibid.

         Sudan filed a petition for rehearing, and the United States filed an amicus curiae brief in support of Sudan's petition. The panel ordered supplemental briefing and heard additional oral argument, but it once again affirmed, reiterating its view that § 1608(a)(3) "does not specify that the mailing be sent to the head of the ministry of foreign affairs in the foreign country." 838 F.3d 86, 91 (CA2 2016). The court thereafter denied Sudan's petition for rehearing en banc.

         Subsequent to the Second Circuit's decision, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held in a similar case that § 1608(a)(3) "does not authorize delivery of service to a foreign state's embassy even if it correctly identifies the intended recipient as the head of the ministry of foreign affairs." Kumar v. Republic of Sudan, 880 F.3d 144, 158 (2018), cert, pending, No. 17-1269.

         We granted certiorari to resolve this conflict. 585 U.S. ___(2018)

         II

         A

         The question before us concerns the meaning of § 1608(a)(3), and in interpreting that provision, "[w]e begin 'where all such inquiries must begin: with the language of the statute itself.'" Caraco Pharmaceutical Laboratories, Ltd. v. Novo Nordisk A/S, 566 U.S. 399, 412 (2012) (quoting United States v. Ron Pair Enterprises, Inc., 489 U.S. 235, 241 (1989)). As noted, § 1608(a)(3) requires that service be sent "by any form of mail requiring a signed receipt, to be addressed and dispatched by the clerk of the court to the head of the ministry of foreign affairs of the foreign state concerned."

         The most natural reading of this language is that service must be mailed directly to the foreign minister's office in the foreign state. Although this is not, we grant, the only plausible reading of the statutory text, it is the most natural one. See, e.g., United States v. Hohri, 482 U.S. 64, 69-71 (1987) (choosing the "more natural" reading of a statute); ICC v. Texas, 479 U.S. 450, 456-457 (1987) (same); see also Florida Dept. of Revenue v. Piccadilly Cafeterias, Inc., 554 U.S. 33, 41 (2008) (similar).

         A key term in § 1608(a)(3) is the past participle "addressed." A letter or package is "addressed" to an intended recipient when his or her name and "address" is placed on the outside of the item to be sent. And the noun "address," in the sense relevant here, means "the designation of a place (as a residence or place of business) where a person or organization may be found or communicated with." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 25 (1971) (Webster's Third); see also Webster's Second New International Dictionary 30 (1957) ("the name or description of a place of residence, business, etc., where a person may be found or communicated with"); Random House Dictionary of the English Language 17 (1966) ("the place or the name of the place where a person, organization, or the like is located or may be reached"); American Heritage Dictionary 15 (1969) ("[t]he location at which a particular organization or person may be found or reached"); Oxford English Dictionary 106 (1933) (OED) ("the name of the place to which any one's letters are directed"). Since a foreign nation's embassy in the United States is neither the residence nor the usual place of business of that nation's foreign minister and is ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.