Thursday, December 5, 2013

Yousef v. Samantar case brief

Yousef v. Samantar case brief summary
552 F.3d 371 (4th Cir. 2009)

Plaintiffs, natives of Somalia, sued defendant, a certain former Somalian government official, for allegedly directing acts of torture and human rights violations. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia concluded that the official enjoyed immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 28 U.S.C.S. §§ 1602-1611, and dismissed the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiffs sought review.

Plaintiffs were either torture victims or personal representatives of the estates of family members allegedly tortured and killed under the general command of the official. The district court followed the majority view that individuals were covered under the FSIA and granted the official's motion to dismiss.


  • On appeal, the court concluded that the FSIA did not apply to individuals, and thus, that the official was not entitled to immunity under the FSIA and that the FSIA did not deprive the district court of jurisdiction. 
  • Although noting the majority view cited by the district court, the court concluded that whether individuals were covered under the FSIA was an open question in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. 
  • The court concluded that, based on the language and structure of the statute, the FSIA did not apply to individual agents of foreign governments, particularly as the phrase "agency or instrumentality" in 28 U.S.C.S. § 1603 referred to a political body or corporate entity, but not an individual. 
  • The court further found that, even if the FSIA applied to individual defendants, Congress did not intend to shield former government agents from suit under the FSIA.

The court reversed the ruling of the district court dismissing the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the FSIA and remanded the case for further proceedings on plaintiffs' claims as well as the official's other arguments regarding his potential immunity, which were not addressed by the district court.

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