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Court Hears Foreign Immunity Dispute

Posted Apr 25, 2007 7:25 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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U.S. Supreme Court justices appeared to resist arguments that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act bars federal court jurisdiction in an international dispute over property taxes, Legal Times reports.

New York contends that India and Mongolia owe $18 million in back taxes for parts of U.N. mission buildings that are used for staff housing rather than diplomacy. The city notes an exemption in the law that allows jurisdiction in disputes over "immovable property" and contends it applies in this case, in which it seeks to enforce a lien.

"A lien is an interest in the land," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said during yesterday's arguments. "It runs with the land, doesn't it?"

But Michael Cardozo, New York City's corporation counsel, conceded in oral arguments that even if the city wins the jurisdiction argument, it will not be able to enforce a judgment because of diplomatic immunity, the New York Times reports.

After the arguments, New York issued a statement by Cardozo. “Both lower courts supported the city's position that there is jurisdiction for this case to be heard,” he said. “We are very hopeful that the Supreme Court will agree." Transcripts of the arguments in Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations v. The City of New York are available online (PDF).

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