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BRIDGEWAY CORP. v. CITIBANK

March 30, 1999

BRIDGEWAY CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITIBANK D/B/A CITICORP, N.A., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chin, District Judge.

OPINION

In this case, plaintiff Bridgeway Corporation ("Bridgeway") seeks to enforce a $189,376.66 judgment rendered in its favor by the Supreme Court of Liberia in Monrovia, Liberia (the "Liberian Judgment") against defendant Citibank d/b/a Citicorp, N.A. ("Citibank").*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, Bridgeway's motion for summary judgment is denied. Furthermore, because I find that the Liberian Judgment is unenforceable as a matter of law, summary judgment shall be entered in favor of Citibank.

BACKGROUND

I provide summaries of (a) Liberia's government, its recent civil war, and its judiciary; (b) the underlying facts in this case; and (c) the prior proceedings in this case, including the proceedings in Liberia.

A. Liberia*fn2

1. The Government and History of Civil War in Liberia

The nation now known as Liberia was originally established by the American Colonization Society, an organization that was founded in 1817 to resettle freed American slaves in Africa. The first such emancipated slaves settled in Liberia in 1822. A constitution modeled on the United States Constitution was adopted, and Liberia became an independent republic in 1847.

The original 1847 Constitution was amended in 1976 and again in 1986. In many respects, the government established under the most recent amendments mirrors the United States Government. Indeed, under the 1986 Constitution, Liberia has a unitary government, consisting of three separate, distinct, but coordinate branches — a Legislature, an Executive branch, and a Judiciary.

From 1980 to 1989, the Liberian government was headed by Samuel Kanyon Doe. Doe's regime was marked by corruption, human rights abuses, and, by the late 1980s, rampant inflation. In December of 1989, a group of dissidents began an uprising and took over the government of Liberia. Doe was executed by a group of rebels on September 12, 1990. His murder marked the end of constitutional government in Liberia and the beginning of a seven-year civil war, during which the country was consumed by violence.

By 1991, Liberia was effectively ruled by two governments. One government controlled Monrovia, while a rebel group controlled the remainder of the country. An attempt to reach a peace accord in 1992 proved unsuccessful, and in September 1992, hostilities broke out. Boys as young as eight years old were recruited to fight, and civilians who refused to join the rebel forces were executed. Monrovia was held under siege, and thousands of civilians were killed in the crossfire.

Another peace conference was held in July 1993 among the various warring factions. They drew up a plan for a Liberian National Transitional Government, to be led by a five-member Council of State. A cease-fire was implemented, but again, was short-lived. Hostilities flared up again in late 1993, with two new armed forces sprouting up. By mid-1994, the cease-fire had completely failed, and fighting continued. The United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia intervened in March of 1994. Around this time, the United States Government issued a report condemning the widespread human rights violations in Liberia, noting in particular the massacre of civilians.

In August of 1994, the leaders of the various factions met secretly to discuss a timeline for disarmament and the institution of the 1993 Council of State plan. There was another brief cease-fire in December of 1994, and finally, a formal peace accord was signed on August 19, 1995. In September of 1995, a new government was organized, and the Council of State was tentatively established. Its authority, however, was tenuous. Moreover, disarmament was never achieved.

Hostilities flared up again in April of 1996. An uprising was sparked in the outskirts of Monrovia, and quickly spread into the capital city. Street fighting erupted in the city, accompanied by widespread looting, and, eventually, the new government collapsed. Another cease-fire was declared in May of 1996.

The restoration of peace and democracy in Liberia began in 1997. An election was held in July of 1997, the first democratic election in Liberia in 12 years. Charles Taylor was elected President, garnering 75% of the votes, and the newly elected government was inaugurated in August of that year. At the same time, the 1986 Constitution was reinstated by a joint resolution of the National Legislature.

Commentators have observed that, between 1989 and 1996, as many as 200,000 people were killed in Liberia, and that well over one million Liberian citizens were left homeless as a result of the civil war. Approximately 750,000 Liberians fled the country seeking refuge in other countries. Other commentators have reported that the fighting destroyed much of Liberia's economy, that the unemployment rate during the hostilities was as high as 80 to 90%, and that during the period of civil war in Liberia, corruption was rampant in all government organizations.

2. The Judiciary

Pursuant to the 1986 Constitution, the judicial powers of the Liberian government are vested in the Supreme Court and such subordinate courts as the Legislature may establish. The Supreme Court consists of one chief justice and four associate justices. Justices and judges are nominated by the President of Liberia and confirmed by the Liberian Senate. Once appointed, a justice or judge has life tenure, unless removed as a result of impeachment, resignation, or death.

After the civil war began in 1990, however, the provisions of the 1986 Constitution relating to the judiciary were no longer followed. Because the government was undergoing upheaval, justices and judges were no longer nominated by an executive authority, and were no longer confirmed by an elected legislative body.

In 1992, the Supreme Court was reorganized. The warring factions agreed that one faction could appoint three justices to the court, including the chief justice, and that the other could appoint two justices to the court. In his First Sworn Statement, H. Varney G. Sherman, a Liberian attorney, former president of the Liberian National Bar Association, and counsel to Citibank's branch in Liberia ("Citibank Liberia"), states that it was the head of each of these two factions who made the appointments to the court, and that, during this period, "it was common knowledge that members of the Supreme Court served at the will and pleasure of the appointing powers." (First Sworn Statement of H. Varney G. Sherman dated June 2, 1998 ("Varney Aff. I") ¶ 5).

The portrayal of the Liberian judiciary in Varney's First Sworn Statement is consistent with that contained in the U.S. Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Liberia for the years 1994-97. For example, the 1994 report stated that all levels of the court system were functioning "erratically," and that "corruption and incompetent handling of cases remained a recurrent problem." (Def.'s Ex. 6). This report also stated that one of the improvements in the judicial system from the previous year was the implementation of a requirement that "circuit court judges be law school graduates." Id. Finally, the 1994 Report stated that, since 1991, legal and judicial protections in the part of the country controlled by one of the factions were "almost totally lacking," and that in areas controlled by other factions, "there was little pretense of due process," and that "swift justice was meted out by faction leaders." Id.

The 1995 Report depicted an equally bleak picture of the Liberian judicial system. This report stated that, in 1995, "the judicial system continued to be hampered by inefficiency and corruption." Id. The report stated further that, "because of the war, the judiciary does not function in most areas of the country," and that where it does function, "it is in practice subject to political, social, familial, and financial suasion." Id. Furthermore, while the Constitution theoretically provided for due process rights, "[m]ost of these rights . . . were ignored in practice." Id. Similarly, the 1996 Report stated that "the judicial system, already hampered by inefficiency and corruption, collapsed for six months following the outbreak of fighting in April."

Finally, it appears that even after the conflict ended, problems with the judicial system persisted. Indeed, the 1997 Report stated that the Liberian judiciary was still "subject to political influence, outside pressure, and corruption" and continued to be subject to "political, social, familial, and financial pressures." Id. The report stated further that, "[e]ven after the elections, the judiciary did not function in most areas of the country due to lack of infrastructure," and that due process rights continued to be "ignored in practice." Id.

In 1997, in anticipation of the first democratic election in 12 years, the leaders of the various factions acknowledged that the membership of the Supreme Court had been based on factional loyalties since 1992, and agreed that any specter of factional loyalties would have to be eradicated to enhance the credibility of any electoral dispute that might be decided by the Supreme Court. Convinced that the international community would not accept a decision of the Supreme Court on any electoral dispute unless the membership was changed and the process for the selection of new justices reformed, the Council of State organized a new Supreme Court. The members of the court were dismissed, and new members were appointed based on recommendations by the Liberian ...


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