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Lewis v. Mutond

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

March 12, 2019

Darryl Lewis, Appellant
Kalev Mutond, in his individual capacity only, Administrateur Generale, Agence Nationale de Renseignements, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Alexis Tambwe Mwamba, in his individual capacity only, Ministre de la Justice, Garde des Sceaux et Droits Humains, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Appellees

          Argued September 6, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:16-cv-01547)

          Merrill C. Godfrey argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellant.

          Robert N. Weiner argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief were Raul R. Herrera, R. Stanton Jones, and Stephen K. Wirth.

          Before: SRINIVASAN and WILKINS, Circuit Judges, and RANDOLPH, Senior Circuit Judge.



         Wilkins, Circuit Judge: This case involves a lawsuit brought under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 ("TVPA"), Pub. L. 102-256, 106 Stat. 73 (1992), by an American citizen who sued two foreign officials from the Democratic Republic of the Congo ("DRC") for alleged torture over a six-week period. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

         Defendants moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction; lack of personal jurisdiction; and insufficient service of process. The District Court granted the motion to dismiss, holding the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the defendants are immune under the common law foreign official immunity doctrine.

         For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that Defendants are not entitled to foreign official immunity under the common law. Because such immunity does not apply in this case, we vacate the ruling of the District Court dismissing for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and remand for further proceedings. In the opinion by Senior Judge Randolph, which is joined in relevant part by Judge Srinivasan, we provide the alternative holding that the TVPA displaces conduct-based immunity in this context.


         The following facts are taken from the complaint and assumed true on review of Defendants' motion to dismiss. Scandinavian Satellite Sys., AS v. Prime TV Ltd., 291 F.3d 839, 844 (D.C. Cir. 2002). In April 2016, Plaintiff Darryl Lewis, an American citizen, was in the DRC working as an "unarmed security advisor" to Moise Katumbi. J.A. 4. Katumbi, the former governor of the Katanga Province, was running for president of the DRC. In his complaint, Plaintiff asserts that, on April 24, 2016, he was traveling by car with a colleague in Lubumbashi when he was stopped by a local police officer near a political rally. Lewis, his colleague, and colleagues in a separate vehicle were detained by the National Intelligence Agency, Agence Nationale de Renseignements ("ANR"). Plaintiff describes being physically assaulted during the arrest process and being accused of being an American mercenary soldier, which he denies. Lewis and his colleagues were then transported to a local jail, where ANR members continued to assault them during a lengthy interrogation. The following morning, they were transported by air to Kinshasa, where Lewis was incarcerated and interrogated daily for six weeks. Plaintiff alleges that he was interrogated daily by ANR members for approximately sixteen hours a day and was intentionally starved and denied sleep and basic hygienic necessities.

         Plaintiff claims that Defendant Kalev Mutond, General Administrator of the ANR, was involved in his detention in Kinshasa, at one point warning him: "Don't let me find out you're a mercenary." J.A. 7. Plaintiff further claims that Defendant Alexis Thambwe Mwamba, DRC Minister of Justice, publicly accused him of being a mercenary sent to assassinate President Joseph Kabila during a press conference on May 4, 2016, claiming to have "documented proof." J.A. 7. The following day on May 5, 2016, the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa allegedly issued a statement condemning the remarks concerning Lewis and mercenary activities. Lewis was released on June 8, 2016, having never been charged with a crime.

         Plaintiff contends that Defendants are liable under the TVPA. The TVPA creates an express cause of action against "[a]n individual who, under actual or apparent authority, or color of law, of any foreign nation . . . subjects an individual to torture.'' 28 U.S.C. § 1350 (note) sec. 2(a). Plaintiff's complaint alleges that "Defendants at all times used their respective positions of authority to act under apparent authority or color of law of the DRC with respect to the actions alleged in this complaint." J.A. 11. Rather than order his release from custody and protect him from torture, Plaintiff argues, Defendants enabled the abuses described in the complaint.

         Defendants moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, claiming that Plaintiff's complaint alleges acts exclusively taken in Defendants' official capacity. Because foreign officials enjoy immunity from suits based on official acts committed in their official capacities, Defendants argued, the District Court lacked jurisdiction. The District Court agreed and granted Defendants' motion to dismiss. Lewis v. Mutond, 258 F.Supp.3d 168, 172 (D.D.C. 2017). Plaintiff timely appealed.


         This Court reviews de novo the District Court's dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Simon v. Republic of Hungary, 812 F.3d 127, 135 (D.C. Cir. 2016). The defendant bears the burden of proving foreign official immunity. Cf. Phoenix Consulting Inc. v. Republic of Angola, 216 F.3d 36, 40 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (explaining that a foreign state defendant who asserts the defense of immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act "bears the burden of proving that the plaintiff's allegations do not bring its case within a statutory exception to immunity").


         Because this case involves foreign officials - not foreign states - the issue of immunity is governed by the common law, not the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("FSIA"). See Samantar v. Yousuf, 560 U.S. 305, 325 (2010) (noting that a case "in which respondents have sued petitioner in his personal capacity . . . is properly governed by the common law"). The doctrine of common law foreign immunity distinguishes between two types of immunity: status-based and conduct-based immunity. Status-based immunity is reserved for diplomats and heads of state and attaches "regardless of the substance of the claim." Chimène I. Keitner, The Common Law of Foreign Official Immunity, 14 Green Bag 2d 61, 64 (2010); see also Yousuf v. Samantar, 699 F.3d 763, 774 (4th Cir. 2012). Conduct-based immunity is afforded to "any [] [p]ublic minister, official, or agent of the state with respect to acts performed in his official capacity if the effect of exercising jurisdiction would be to ...

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