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Supreme Court rules in favor of position advocated by Constantine Cannon partner Henry Su on behalf of The Center for International Environmental Law and others in Jam v. International Finance Corp

Posted  March 8, 2019

Can the World Bank and other international organizations be sued for investments gone awry? That was the question, broadly speaking, that the Supreme Court answered in Jam v. International Finance Group, a case brought by Indian fishermen and farmers from the state of Gujarat whose waters and lands were destroyed by a power plant financed by the International Finance Group (IFC). The group of farmers sued the international financial institution alleging that, as the IFC’s mission included investing money “with the intent to ‘do no harm’ to people and the environment,” it was obligated to monitor the projects it financed and had failed to do so. Both the District and Circuit Courts found that under the International Organizations Immunities Act (IOIA), which grants international financial institutions like the IFC the same immunity from suit that foreign governments enjoy, the IFC could not be sued.

The more specific question before the Supreme Court was whether the IOIA should be interpreted as giving international organizations immunity from suits relating to acts of a governmental nature, but not from suits relating to acts of a commercial nature, which would allow the farmers’ suit. Such a ruling, the plaintiffs argued, would be consistent with the interpretation of immunity in other similar statutes. On February 27, 2019, in a 7-1 decision authored by Justice Roberts, the Supreme Court agreed, and reversed the lower courts.

Henry Su, a partner at Constantine Cannon, wrote an amicus brief along with The Center for International Environmental Law, Accountability Counsel, Center for Constitutional Rights, Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations, Global Witness, Inclusive Development International, International Accountability Project, Erica Gould, and Jennifer Green, explaining why the petitioners’ interpretation of the IOIA would not open the litigation floodgates and saddle international financial institutions with numerous, disruptive lawsuits. Rather, the amici argued, this would provide an important opportunity to hold the IFC and other organizations accountable for environmental and human rights violations caused by projects they chose to finance. The brief is available here.


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