Case of the Day: Von Pezold v. Zimbabwe

The case of the day is Von Pezold v. Republic of Zimbabwe (D.D.C. 2022). Elisabeth von Pezold and members of her family, and Border Timbers Ltd. and Hangani Development Co., both had ICSID awards against Zimbabwe. They brought an action to confirm the awards in Washington. They served process on Zimbabwe by sending the papers by mail to “Hon. Lt. General Dr. S.B. Mayo” at the “Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” This would, on the face of things, be good service under 28 U.S.C. § 1608(a)(3), provided there was no special arrangement for service in the case, and given that Zimbabwe is not a party to the Service Convention. But as the judge noted, Dr. Mayo had died months before the time of service. Zimbabwe moved to dismiss.

The court held, correctly I think, that the service was no good. Addressing the documents to the former minister of foreign affairs by name doesn’t strictly comply with the statute. In dicta, the judge suggested that it is necessary to name the foreign minister, and thus that mail addressed to “The Foreign Minister of Zimbabwe,” for example, would not be sufficient. I don’t think this is right. In Barot v. Zambia 785 F.3d 26 (D.C. Cir. 2015), the court held that the statute required that the documents be sent to the head of the foreign ministry, “whether identified by name or title.” True, in Republic of Sudan v. Harrison, 139 S. Ct. 1048 (2019), the Court said that “the most natural reading of § 1608(a)(3) is that the service packet must bear the foreign minister’s name and customary address,” but the issue in the case was whether sending the documents to the foreign minister at the state’s US embassy was sufficient, so this is just a dictum, and I can think of no good reason why, for example, mail sent to “the Secretary of State” at the correct address in Washington DC should be deemed insufficient if the shoe were on the other foot, while mail sent to “Hon. Antony Blinken” at that address should be deemed sufficient.

In any event, what Von Pezold shows is that whether or not it’s necessary to address the foreign minister by name rather than by title, it’s not okay to name the wrong person as foreign minister.

The judge correctly refused to dismiss the case, holding that in light of the technical nature of the improper service, the petitioners should have another chance to serve the documents.

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