Case of the Day: Wye Oak Technology v. Iraq

The case of the day is Wye Oak Technology v. Republic of Iraq (D.D.C. 2013). Wye Oak was an American defense contractor. In 2004, it contracted with the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, and from 2004 to 2005, it repaired and refurbished several armored battalions and arranged for the sale of some metal as scrap. It sought payment of $24 million. In 2004, Dale Stoffel, the president of Wye Oak, and another employee were killed by unidentified gunmen when they traveled to Iraq to try to collect the payment, but whether the killings were related to the contract in any way was disputed.

Wye Oak sued Iraq in 2009. It attempted service by mail under 28 USC § 1608(a)(3) by sending the summons and complaint to the Iraqi embassy in Washington by FedEx. When that method failed, Wye Oak served the summons and complaint through the diplomatic channel under § 1608(a)(4).

Iraq moved to dismiss on the grounds that the attempt at service by mail did not comply with § 1608(a)(3), because Wye Oak had addressed the documents to the embassy rather than to the appropriate Iraqi official in Iraq. Since § 1608(a)(4) is inapplicable unless the plaintiff has first properly attempted service under § 1608(a)(3), Wye Oak argued, service was improper. The judge rejected Iraq’s argument, reasoning that “Wye Oak was not serving the Embassy itself or personnel within the Embassy, but rather attempting to use the Embassy as a conduit,” that “Wye Oak reasonably believed that the insecurity in Iraq rendered service of a government official there impossible,” and that “§ 1608(a)(3) does not prohibit this method of delivery.”

Iraq then sought reconsideration. The judge summarily denied the motion. Even if the service was technically improper, the judge held, there was no prejudice sufficient to make reconsideration appropriate, as there was no dispute that Iraq had received the documents through the diplomatic channel.

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