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Edwards v. Federal Goverment of Nigeria

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

December 18, 2018

DR. TED ISEGHOHI EDWARDS, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS

          F. Dennis Saylor, United States District Judge

         This is an action to enforce a judgment of the Federal High Court of Nigeria. Plaintiff Dr. Ted Iseghohi Edwards seeks $318 million in contingency fees that he contends were awarded by the Federal High Court for representing local Nigerian governments in a suit against the federal government of Nigeria. Defendants, a group of eleven Nigerian government entities and officials, have filed two motions to dismiss the complaint. For the following reasons, both motions to dismiss will be granted.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The facts are set forth as alleged in the complaint.

         According to the complaint, on June 11, 2013, a consultancy company and 235 local Nigerian governments filed an action in the Federal High Court of Nigeria to recover money allegedly owed to them by the federal government of Nigeria. (Pl. Ex. 2).[1] Edwards alleges that he provided legal consultation to the local governments in that suit. (Pl. Ex. 3). On December 13, 2013, the Federal High Court issued a judgment in favor of the company and local governments for approximately $3.18 billion. (Pl. Ex. 2).

         On July 4, 2015, Edwards filed an action in the Federal High Court against the Incorporated Trustees of Association of Local Governments of Nigeria. (Pl. Ex. 3). Edwards sought to recover a ten percent “contingency fee” he contended he was owed for the legal work he had performed for the local governments as part of their 2013 case. (Id.). On October 30, 2015, the Federal High Court issued Edwards a judgment for approximately $3.18 million. (Id.). The judgment also provided that Edwards was “entitled to be paid . . . 10% of any recovery made and or of proceeds from any source whatsoever of the [2013] Judgment.” (Id.).

         On November 18, 2015, Edwards brought an action seeking to recover the ten percent ($3.18 million) from the Central Bank of Nigeria. (Pl. Ex. 6). On October 3, 2016, the Federal High Court issued an order directing the Central Bank of Nigeria to pay Edwards that amount. (Id.).

         On October 28, 2016, Edwards filed an action in the Federal High Court against the Central Bank of Nigeria, the federal government of Nigeria, and nine entities and officials of the federal government. (Pl. Ex. 1). Among other things, the suit sought (1) a declaration that, by virtue of the Federal High Court's 2013 decision, the Central Bank of Nigeria was not to “disburse any sum of money to anyone . . . without first deducting and paying . . . $318 million . . . to Edwards, ” and (2) “[a]n [o]rder directing the Central Bank of Nigeria to deduct and pay . . . $318 million to Edwards” pursuant to the Federal High Court's 2016 decision. (Id.).

         On February 16, 2018, the Federal High Court issued an order granting all the relief requested, except as to one defendant, the Economic and Financial Crimes Division, which it held had not been notified of the action. (Pl. Ex. 1a).

         B. Procedural Background

         On April 17, 2018, Edwards attempted to register the Federal High Court's February 2018 judgment with this Court. (Registration of Foreign Judgment, Dr. Ted Iseghohi-Edwards v. Fed. Gov't of Nigeria, No. 18-mc-91146-FDS (D. Mass. Apr. 17, 2018)). Because Edwards did not serve any of the defendants, the case was dismissed without prejudice.

         On May 30, 2018, Edwards filed a civil action against the alleged judgment debtors seeks to have the Nigerian judgment recognized by a court in the United States. Instead of serving the defendants, however, Edwards filed a motion for service by the clerk and a motion for summary judgment. The Court denied both motions on June 4, 2018. Edwards then served the eleven defendants on June 7 and June 8.

         On August 30, 2018, the Central Bank of Nigeria filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. The other ten defendants filed a motion to dismiss on September 28, 2018. The two motions will be considered together.

         II. Analysis

         A. FSIA Immunity Generally

         All defendants contend that they are entitled to immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1602, et seq.

         The FSIA is “the sole basis for obtaining jurisdiction over a foreign state in [United States] courts.” Argentine Republic v. Amerada Hess Shipping Corp., 488 U.S. 428, 434 (1989). “Under the FSIA, a foreign state is presumptively immune from the jurisdiction of the United States Courts; unless a specified exception applies, a federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a claim against a foreign state.” Saudi Arabia ...


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