Case of the Day: Ezeiruaku v. Bull

The case of the day is Ezeiruaku v. Bull (3d Cir. 2015). Vincent Ezeiruaku, an American citizen, was detained by two officers of the Metropolitan Police, Dan Bull and David March, while traveling through Heathrow Airport. The officers seized $80,000 he had in his possession, and the UK government held the currency for fourteen months before eventually returning it without interest. Ezeiruaku sued Bull, March, and the London police in New Jersey, alleging “violations of his constitutional right to due process, and his property rights, in connection with the seizure of his funds.”

No doubt you can come up with lots of problems with the claim, but the dispositive problem was that, as the district court held, the defendants had immunity under the FSIA and thus the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. The Third Circuit affirmed, holding that the commercial activity exception did not apply.

My only question about this easy case is: why were the policemen themselves entitled to immunity under the FSIA? Under 28 U.S.C. § 1604, “foreign states” are entitled to immunity. Under § 1603, the term “foreign state” extends to “a political subdivision of a foreign state or an agency or instrumentality of a foreign state.” But what about agents? In Belhas v. Ya’alon, 515 F.3d 1279 (D.C. Cir. 2008), the court held that an agent was entitled to immunity when acting in an official capacity, but in Enahoro v. Abubakar, 408 F.3d 877 (7th Cir. 2005), cert. denied, 546 U.S. 1175 (2006), the court suggested the contrary.

Just off the cuff, it seems to me that it would be better to say that the officers were entitled to dismissal because the court lacked personal jurisdiction and because Ezeiruaku failed to state a claim for relief. But it’s really not clear to me that the FSIA should be read to include officers within its protections, just taking the plain text of the statute at face value.

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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