Case of the Day: Georges v. United Nations

The case of the day is Georges v. United Nations (S.D.N.Y. 2015). I first wrote about the case in December 2013, and then again in March 2014. The case is a putative class action by Haitians against the United Nations, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, and two UN officials, Secretary-General Ban and former Under-Secretary-General Edmond Mulet. The claim was that the defendants are liable for the injuries caused by the cholera epidemic in Haiti. It seems that UN troops introduced the disease to Haiti, which had previously been free of cholera.

The plaintiffs sought to deliver the summons and complaint to UN officials at the UN headquarters in New York but were refused entry. They also 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. I thought this was a pretty easy call—in the prior posts I opined that the defendants were immune from suit and that the plaintiffs had failed to effect service of process.

The Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations 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 …” The plaintiffs conceded the UN had not waived its immunity, but they argued that the UN was not entitled to the benefit of the bargain of the Convention, because the Convention also required the UN to “make provisions for appropriate modes of settlement of … disputes arising out of contracts or other disputes of a private law character to which the United Nations is a party,” and the UN had not provided a claim mechanism for the plaintiffs. But the judge rejected this argument in light of Second Circuit precedent that focused on the requirement of an express waiver.

The Secretary-General and the Under-Secretary-General are also immune from suit. The Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN provides that they have “all the privileges and immunities … accorded to diplomatic envoys, in accordance with international law. Under the Vienna Convention, diplomats are immune from process. Case closed.

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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