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Elendil's Heir
12-20-2006, 12:21 PM
http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/membassy.htm

Nice report - well done. I didn't quite understand the passage about the lawsuit by former hostages against Iran, though; why would it matter whether or not the U.S. embassy in Tehran was U.S. territory, if the lawsuit was against the Iranian government?

There were two cited cases in which 767 Third Avenue Associates (presumably a big NYC landlord) was the plaintiff. Sounds like renting to diplomats is no bed of roses. :dubious:

Gfactor
12-20-2006, 01:26 PM
http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/membassy.htm

Nice report - well done. I didn't quite understand the passage about the lawsuit by former hostages against Iran, though; why would it matter whether or not the U.S. embassy in Tehran was U.S. territory, if the lawsuit was against the Iranian government?

It has to do with a technical requirement of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

Here's a bit from one of the cases:

B. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act Jurisdiction

28 U.S.C. 1330(a) states that district court jurisdiction over claims against foreign state defendants is limited to cases in "which the foreign state is not entitled to immunity either under [**9] sections 1605-1607 of . . . title [28] or under any applicable international agreement." The district court examined the relevant passages of the FSIA, and found that sovereign immunity barred suit against Iran. We affirm.

Under the FSIA, sovereign immunity is waived in suits "for money damages . . . against a foreign state for personal injury or death, or damage to or loss of property, occurring in the United States and caused by the tortious act or omission of that foreign state . . . ." 28 U.S.C. 1605(a)(5) (emphasis added). 28 U.S.C. 1603(c) defines "the United States" for purposes of the FSIA to include "all territory and waters, continental or insular, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States."

This brings us to the heart of this case. Appellants argue that section 1603(c) should be interpreted to embrace "all territory and waters" with respect to which the United States exercises any form of jurisdiction. Inasmuch as United States embassies are subject to the jurisdiction of the United States for certain purposes, appellants argue that events occurring at the embassies fall within the waiver of immunity [**10] contained in section 1605(a)(5). Although a literal reading of the statute supports this argument, we decline to accept it because we believe the intent of Congress was to the contrary. Cf. United States v. American Trucking Ass'ns, 310 U.S. 534, 543-44, 84 L. Ed. 1345, 60 S. Ct. 1059 (1940); Trailer Train Co. v. State Board of Equalization, 697 F.2d 860, 866 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 846, 104 S. Ct. 149, 78 L. Ed. 2d 139 (1983).

Our view rests on the proposition that Congress intended that the FSIA would make United States law on sovereign immunity consistent with international law. See Texas Trading & Milling Corp. v. Federal Republic of Nigeria, 647 F.2d 300, 310 (2d Cir.1981), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 1148, 71 L. Ed. 2d 301, 102 S. Ct. 1012 (1982); H.R. Rep. No. 1487, supra, at 7, 1976 U.S.Code Cong. & Ad.News at 6605-06. n5 Consistent with that intent section 1604 provides a general jurisdictional immunity for foreign states which is made subject to the exceptions specified in section 1605. n6 Section 1605(a)(5), the exception for noncommercial torts on which appellants rely, is directed primarily at the problem of traffic accidents in the United States caused by automobiles operated by a foreign embassy. The legislative history makes this clear. [*588] See H.R. Rep. No. 1487, supra, at 7, 20-21, 1976 U.S.Code Cong. & Ad.News at 6605-06, 6618-20. Admittedly section 1605(a)(5) is cast in general terms and, with certain exceptions, includes all tort actions for money damages not encompassed by the commercial activity exception in section 1605(a)(2). See H.R. Rep. No. 1487, supra, at 20-21, 1976 U.S.Code Cong. & Ad.News at 6619. However, nothing in the legislative history suggests that Congress intended to assert jurisdiction over foreign states for events occurring wholly within their own territory. Such an intent would not be consistent with the prevailing practice in international law. That practice is that a state loses its sovereign immunity for tortious acts only where they occur in the territory of the forum state. See, e.g., European Convention on State Immunity, Arts. 7, 11, Council of Europe, No. 74 (1972); State Immunity Act, 1979, pt. 2, 7 (Singapore); State Immunity Act, 1978, ch. 33, 5 (U.K.).

Informed as we must be by that practice the issue before us is whether the embassy in Tehran is "territory . . . subject to the jurisdiction of the United States." Appellants contend that it is. Territory, of course, is a primary basis for jurisdiction, i.e., a state may prescribe and enforce a rule of law for conduct occurring in territory under the state's sovereignty. Restatement (Second) of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States 10, 17, 20 (1965) [hereinafter cited as Restatement (Second)]. n7 A United States embassy, however, remains the territory of the receiving state, and does not constitute territory of the United States. Restatement (Second) 77 comment a. Thus, [**13] United States embassies are not within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States. See Meredith v. United States, 330 F.2d 9, 10-11 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 379 U.S. 867, 13 L. Ed. 2d 70, 85 S. Ct. 137 (1964). McKeel v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 722 F.2d 582; 1983 U.S. App. LEXIS 14044 (9th Cir. 1983); and see, Persinger v. Islamic Republic of Iraq, 234 U.S. App. D.C. 349; 729 F.2d 835; 1984 U.S. App. LEXIS 24578 (D.C. Cir. 1984).

There were two cited cases in which 767 Third Avenue Associates (presumably a big NYC landlord) was the plaintiff. Sounds like renting to diplomats is no bed of roses. :dubious:

Yep. Most of the references (well 3 or 4 anyway) are articles discussing nightmares in real estate transactions with diplomats.

I'm headed out of town. I may not be able to respond for a while if there are more questions.

Elendil's Heir
12-20-2006, 03:27 PM
Thanks for the answer. What a terrible injustice, though - the U.S. embassy is seized by Tehran mobs with the active encouragement, support and propagandizing of the revolutionary regime, and the regime later successfully claims sovereign immunity based on U.S. law!?!?!?!? Ugh. :mad:

Gfactor
12-21-2006, 01:28 PM
The saddest part is that Congress created new legislation to permit the hostages (and others) to sue, but courts held the lawsuits were still blocked by the Algiers Accords: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/07/01/national/main561274.shtml

Bookkeeper
12-22-2006, 12:51 AM
Thanks for the answer. What a terrible injustice, though - the U.S. embassy is seized by Tehran mobs with the active encouragement, support and propagandizing of the revolutionary regime, and the regime later successfully claims sovereign immunity based on U.S. law!?!?!?!? Ugh. :mad:
I believe that, historically (and possibly still the accepted remedy in international law), the recourse of the offended nation for an offense of this nature is to demand reparations from the offending nation through diplomacy, and if denied, to treat the offense as a causus belli and declare war. The US tendency to try and handle international relations issues through the US courts is somewhat odd to the rest of us.

bibliophage
12-22-2006, 01:45 AM
Here's a question I've wondered oabout since I took a tour of the place circa 1986: Is the UN headquarters "not part of the United States" as claimed by my tour guide and this UN web page (http://www.un.org/av/photo/subjects/unhq.htm)? The wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_headquarters) makes it sound like the UN headquarters is not much different from any other diplomatic site, i.e., it remains part of the United States.

Gfactor
12-22-2006, 01:48 AM
Right. And in this case, it was sort of overdetermined. As I mentioned, custom or not, the U.S. had settled the hostages' claims with Iran before the hostages were released:Upon the making by the Government of Algeria of the certification described in Paragraph 3 above, the United States will promptly withdraw all claims now pending againstIran before the International Court of Justice and will thereafter bar and preclude the prosecution against Iran of any pending or future claim of the United States or a United States national arising out of events occurring before the date of this declaration related to (A) the seizure of the 52 United States nationals on November 4, 1979, (B) their subsequent detention, (C) injury to United States property or property of the United States nationals within the United States Embassy compound in Tehran after November 3, 1979, and (D) injury to the United States nationals or their property as a result of popular movements in the course of the Islamic Revolution in Iran which were not an act of the Government of Iran. The United States will also bar and preclude the prosecution against Iran in the courts of the United States of any pending or future claim asserted by persons other than the United States nationals arising out of the events specified in the preceding sentence.http://www.parstimes.com/history/algiers_accords.pdf

And see, Roeder v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 333 F.3d 228 (D.C. Cir. 2003): http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=DC&navby=case&no=025145A (Amendments to FSIA passed by Congress specifically to enable suit by former hostages did not abrogate Presidential settlement of hostages' claims in Algiers Accords).

Gfactor
12-22-2006, 04:01 PM
The wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_headquarters) makes it sound like the UN headquarters is not much different from any other diplomatic site, i.e., it remains part of the United States.

That's correct. We talked about this topic a while ago here: Legal Aspects of Diplomatic Immunity: what about UN HQ? (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=341956)

Gfactor
12-22-2006, 08:08 PM
I believe that, historically (and possibly still the accepted remedy in international law), the recourse of the offended nation for an offense of this nature is to demand reparations from the offending nation through diplomacy, and if denied, to treat the offense as a causus belli and declare war. The US tendency to try and handle international relations issues through the US courts is somewhat odd to the rest of us.

I didn't mean to undercut this point before. Yes. Bookkeeper is exactly right. Historically under international law, States, and not their citizens had rights. An injury to a citizen was an injury to the citizen's State. So the State would seek reparations--there was no venue for suits by individuals against States who had violated their rights (most of the time). That is changing to some extent. There is a lot of discussion in the literature about it.

This article talks a little about the issue with respect to U.S. practices: http://eprints.law.duke.edu/archive/00001176/01/1_Chi._J._Int%27l._L._421_(2000).pdf

There's plenty more out there in print, but I couldn't find anything great online.

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