Update: Georges v. United Nations

Here is the latest on Georges v. United Nations, the putative class action seeking to hold the UN liable for damages resulting from the cholera epidemic in Haiti that, apparently, was caused by UN peacekeepers. According to the plaintiffs, they sought to deliver the summons and complaint to UN officials at the UN headquarters in New York but were refused entry. The plaintiffs have sent the summons and complaint to the UN by certified mail and by fax and now have moved for an order deeming service to have been effectuated or, in the alternative, seeking leave to serve process by mail or fax.

The United States, through the office of the US Attorney in New York, has opposed the plaintiffs. It points to the language from the Headquarters Agreement that I cited in my prior post:

The service of legal process, including the seizure of private property, may take place within the headquarters district only with the consent of and under conditions approved by the Secretary-General.

And it cited to the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, which provides that the UN “shall enjoy immunity from every form of legal process except insofar as in any particular case it has expressly waived its immunity …”

This seems clearly right (the US Attorney offers similar reasoning on the other UN defendants, including the Secretary-General), and so again I hazard a guess that the case will be dismissed.

I would like to editorialize for a moment and say that although the correct outcome of the case seems pretty clear, the fact that a state or an international organization such as the UN has the power to assert various immunities doesn’t mean that it should not provide remedies to those whom it harms. The United States does this, for example, by way of the Federal Tort Claims Act, the Court of Federal Claims, etc. The UN can provide a right to be heard and possibly a remedy if it wishes, and maybe it should.

About Ted Folkman

Ted Folkman is a shareholder with Murphy & King, a Boston law firm, where he has a complex business litigation practice. He is the author of International Judicial Assistance (MCLE 2d ed. 2016), a nuts-and-bolts guide to international judicial assistance issues, and of the chapter on service of process in the ABA's forthcoming treatise on International Aspects of US Litigation, and he is the publisher of Letters Blogatory, the Web's first blog devoted to international judicial assistance, which the ABA recognized as one of the best 100 legal blogs in 2012, 2014, and 2015.

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