NY Court Denies Immunity to Dominique Strauss-Kahn in Civil Action Filed by Hotel Employee Alleging Sexual Assault

A New York state trial judge denied former IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s motion to dismiss civil damages claims brought by a former hotel maid who claimed Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted her. Diallo v. Strauss-Kahn, No. 307065/11 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. (May 1, 2012). Strauss-Kahn argued that he was shielded from possible liability by the following: (1) section 8(1) of the International Monetary Fund Articles of Agreement, which provides that employees of the IMF are “immune from legal process with respect to acts performed by them in their official capacity except when the Fund waives [the] immunity;” (2) the Bretton Woods Agreement Act, 22 U.S.C. § 286h, by which the United States implemented the IMF Articles; (3) the International Organizations Immunity Act, 22 U.S.C. §   288d(b); and (4) customary international law, as purportedly reflected by the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the Specialized Agencies (“Specialized Agencies Convention”)—a treaty to which the United States has never acceded.

The court rejected all of Strauss-Kahn’s immunity arguments, finding that the IMF Articles, the Bretton Woods Agreement Act, and the International Organizations Immunity Act “bestow only functional immunity on the managing director of the IMF.” The court also determined that—apart from the fact that the United States had not acceded to the Specialized Agencies Convention—the IMF had actually opted out of the immunity provisions of that convention. The court further held that, as a directly applicable statute enacted by Congress, the International Organizations Immunity Act, rather than customary international law, controls the nature of immunity in Strauss-Kahn’s case. The court wrote—

The United States of America, through its political processes can make laws, ratify treaties, or issue judicial pronouncements which require a non-citizen employee of a specialized agency, here on our soil as part of the fabric of international governance, to behave, in their private conduct, in a lawful way failing which to be answerable in courts of law or other tribunals under the same standards as their next door American neighbors. At a time when issues concerning human rights significantly shape today’s international law, customary or otherwise, it is hardly an assault on long standing principles of comity among nations to require those working in this country to respect our laws as Americans working elsewhere must respect theirs.

The court further held that, because Strauss-Kahn resigned as managing director of the IMF prior to the commencement of the civil action, pursuant to Article 39(2) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, he lost whatever immunity he might have enjoyed for pre-resignation acts in furtherance of the business of the IMF. Lastly, the court suggested that Strauss-Kahn may have waived any such immunity by failing to assert it as a defense in the criminal proceedings that were initiated but ultimately dropped prior to the filing of the civil action.

 

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