District Court Applies FSIA To Dismiss Complaint Regarding Seizure of U.S. Currency by British Police at Heathrow Airport

The World in U.S. Courts: Winter 2015 - Alien Tort Statute (ATS)/Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA)/Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA)/Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA)

Ezeiruaku v. Bull, U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, November 3, 2014

London police officers confiscated $80,000 in U.S. currency belonging to the plaintiffs, U.S. citizens, while they were at Heathrow Airport. After a fourteen-month delay, an amount less than $80,000 was allegedly returned. Claiming that the seizure was not supported by a reasonable basis to believe that the money was linked to illegal activity, the plaintiffs sought damages alleging that various of their U.S. Constitutional rights had been violated.

The Court disposed of the case on FSIA grounds. The plaintiffs did not dispute that the defendants, British police officers, met the threshold statutory requirement that they were “agents or an instrumentality” of a non-U.S. state. That being the case, the burden shifted to the plaintiffs to allege facts from which the Court might conclude that either or all of three FSIA exceptions claimed by the plaintiffs applied.

First, the Court found that the “commercial activity” exception did not apply, because the seizure of funds was not “commercial in nature or purpose” but rather was a traditional sovereign act of policing, and that the alleged injury stemming from the loss of use of the funds did not have a “transactional relationship” to the U.S. Second, it found that the “expropriation exception” did not apply, because the requirement that “expropriated” funds be used or maintained by the defendant in the U.S. was not met. Finally, the Court found that the “tortious conduct” exception did not apply because the statute required that the exception be based on torts occurring in the U.S., not merely torts that may have had an effect in the U.S. That requirement was not met in connection with the seizure in the UK.

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