Case of the Day: Edwards v. Nigeria
Posted on January 7, 2019
The case of the day is Edwards v. Federal Government of Nigeria (D. Mass. 2018). In 2013, hundreds of local governments in Nigeria sued the Nigerian federal government and three federal officials in the Federal High Court, seeking “to recover money allegedly owed to them.” Dr. Ted Iseghohi Edwards claimed that he was a consultant to the plaintiffs. the High Court entered a judgment in the local governments’ favor for more than $3 billion.
Edwards then brought an action in the High Court against the local governments, claiming that they owed him 10% of the recovery under a contingent fee agreement. the High Court agreed, entered judgment for $3.18 million in his favor, and declared that he was entitled to 10% of any recovery. Ultimately the High Court entered an order requiring the Central Bank of Nigeria to pay the $3.18 million. But you will not be surprised to hear that all of Edwards’s efforts in Nigeria came to naught.
Edwards unsuccessfully tried to register the Nigerian judgment in the U.S. District Court in Boston. (Massachusetts is one of the few states where you can’t even register a domestic judgment, but instead have to bring an action on the judgment). He then sued Nigeria, which brings us to the case of the day.
Edwards’s answer to the obvious FSIA problem was to say that the commercial activity applied because the foreign state’s actions in Nigeria were commercial and caused a direct effect in the United States. What direct effect? Well, if Edwards had gotten his money, he would have owed US income tax, and the treasury suffered a loss. But you might just as well say that Edwards was in the United States and suffered the loss. Either way, the law is clear: a financial loss felt in the United States, without more, is insufficient. The expropriation exception was similarly unavailing, as Nigeria was taking property within its own territory and for other reasons. Thus the judge correctly dismissed the case.