Iraq Shooting Suit Nixed for Lack of Jurisdiction
(CN) - A British defense contractor need not face claims that one of its mercenaries shot a U.S. soldier in the foot in Iraq, leaving him disabled, a federal judge ruled.
While there is no dispute about the facts giving rise to Sgt. Khadim Alkanani's allegations, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said the court simply lacks personal jurisdiction over the U.K.-based Aegis Defense Services Ltd.
Alkanani's complaint in Washington D.C. describes his shooting by an unidentified security guard for Aegis as he was returning from Baghdad International Airport after an intelligence mission on June 3, 2005.
The U.S. Army contracted Aegis in May 2004 to provide security services and anti-terrorism support in Iraq through November 2007. Aegis formed a Virginia-based LLC, in which it held a 99 percent interest, to run background checks on Americans that the UK parent hired.
In early August 2012, U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay recommended dismissing the case against both entities since there was no basis to hold Aegis LLC liable for the actions of its parent company, and since there was no personal jurisdiction over Aegis Ltd.
Though Alkanani did not oppose dropping the claims against the LLC, he said four categories of documents would prove the U.K. parent's "continuous and systematic contacts" with the District of Columbia.
Two of those categories would purportedly reveal parent and subsidiary as one and the same corporation, and effectively alter egos of one another.
Kay thwarted the soldier's plan however by finding that the soldier could compel the contractor to produce only federal and D.C. income tax filings from 2006 through 2009. That ruling also significantly reined in the remaining request for documents related to "business activity inside the district."
Last year the judge recommended dismissing the case for lack of personal jurisdiction.
Judge Jackson did just that Wednesday, saying the key to demonstrating jurisdiction over a defendant is "showing that the defendant had frequent and sustained contacts with residents of the forum state that were directed at doing business in the forum such that the defendant was 'essentially at home' there."
Here, "Aegis UK's activities in the District of Columbia - e.g., its (1) contract negotiations and meetings with the U.S. government; (2) website; (3) tax filings; and (4) contacts with non-government clients - did not render the company 'essentially at home' here for jurisdictional purposes," the ruling states.
Jackson added: "None of these activities is sufficient to establish the propriety of general jurisdiction over Aegis UK standing alone, and even taken together, these activities fall short of the kind of 'systematic and continuous' contacts with the District of Columbia that is required in order for this Court to exercise personal jurisdiction over Aegis UK consistent with D.C. law and the Due Process Clause ... Consequently, the Court concludes that it cannot exercise general jurisdiction over Aegis UK."
Alkanani also failed to show that Coalition 35 Provisional Authority Order Number 17 (CPA Order 17) - an order that the transitional government of Iraq issued shortly after the war in Iraq began - confers personal jurisdiction over Aegis UK with respect to lawsuits filed in the District of Columbia, and that Aegis UK should be estopped from arguing otherwise in light of its reference to that order in the context of prior litigation in this district.
"This court has already concluded that D.C.'s long-arm statute and constitutional due process preclude the exercise of specific or general personal jurisdiction over Aegis UK under the circumstances presented here," Jackson wrote. "Thus, this court agrees with Magistrate Judge Kay that nothing in the text of CPA Order 17 authorizes this court to exercise jurisdiction over Aegis UK."