Case of the Day: Howe v. Embassy of Italy

The case of the day is Howe v. Embassy of Italy (D.D.C. 2014). Simona Hall was an employee of the Italian embassy in Washington. She was a Canadian national residing in Virginia. She brought claims against the embassy under ERISA, claiming that the embassy had miscalculated her benefits under a deferred compensation plan.

Howe apparently sought to serve process on the embassy by leaving the documents at the security desk at the entrancy of the embassy. Yikes! The embassy moved to dismiss for obvious reasons.

It was arguable (but not probable in my view) that the service would pass muster under 28 U.S.C. § 1608(b). But § 1608(b) applies only to agencies or instrumentalities of foreign states, not to foreign states themselves. And it is clear that the service did not comply with § 1608(a), the statute governing service on foreign states. So the question was whether the embassy was a foreign state, or an agency or instrumentality of a foreign state.

The court cited Transaero, Inc. v. La Fuerza Aereaif Boliviana, 30 F.3d 148 (D.C. Cir. 1994), for the proposition that an entity is a “foreign state” for these purposes if it is an “integral part of a foreign state’s political structure.” Many cases hold that embassies come within this rule, and the judge in Howe agreed.

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