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Bisson v. United Nations

February 11, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Paul A. Crotty, United States District Judge


Pro se plaintiff Darlene Bisson ("Bisson") brought this lawsuit on August 21, 2006 against defendants the United Nations ("UN"), the World Food Programme ("WFP"), and ABC Organization ("ABC"), an "unknown terrorist and/or insurgent group," alleging they were liable for injuries she sustained on August 19, 2003 while working for the WFP in Baghdad, Iraq. The case was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck on January 30, 2007. On July 27, 2007, Magistrate Judge Peck issued his Report and Recommendation ("R&R"), recommending that Bisson's complaint be dismissed as to all defendants. Magistrate Judge Peck found that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over both the UN and the WFP, and that Bisson failed to serve process upon any representatives of ABC. (R&R 32.) After requesting and receiving an extension for the filing of objections, Bisson filed her objections ("Objections") to the R&R on August 31, 2007. On September 13, 2007, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York issued a response to the Objections.*fn1 Having reviewed both the R&R and the Objections, this Court agrees with Magistrate Judge Peck's conclusions and dismisses Bisson's claims


The facts set forth in the R&R are not in substantial dispute. Briefly summarized, they are as follows:

In March 2003, prior to the invasion of Iraq by U.S.-led coalition military forces, the UN and related agencies withdrew their staff from Iraq. (R&R 2.) After the fall of Baghdad, the Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator/Designated Official in Iraq proposed a rapid reestablishment of the UN presence in Iraq beginning May 1, 2003. (R&R 2.) As part of this reestablishment, Bisson, a WFP employee, was sent to Baghdad on temporary duty and arrived on June 19, 2003. (R&R 2.) The UN presence was stationed at the Canal Hotel compound in Baghdad. (R&R 2.) The Hotel was surrounded by a wire fence and guarded by a platoon of soldiers. (R&R 2.) In addition, at the time of the incident in question, construction of a hollow brick perimeter had been partially completed. (R&R 2.) Although it was recommended that blast-resistant film be installed on the building's windows, no such installations had been made. (R&R 2.)

On August 19, 2003, while Bisson was at the Canal Hotel compound, a flatbed truck carrying explosives detonated next to the incomplete perimeter wall, killing 22 people and injuring more than 150, including Bisson. (R&R 2.) Most of the injuries sustained were caused by flying glass. (R&R 2.) Bisson claimed that she sustained the following injuries: flying-glass laceration and blunt force injuries to her right thumb; flying-glass lacerations to her left eye, lower neck area, and both forearms; and the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder, requiring ongoing psychiatric treatment. (R&R 2-3.)

Bisson alleged that the UN and WFP were liable for her injuries. She claimed, inter alia, that the organizations failed to provide a secure employment environment, to take appropriate security measures to protect against terrorist or insurgent group attacks, and to heed internal policies with regard to staff ceilings and re-entry into dangerous areas. (R&R 3.) Bisson claimed that the UN was negligent as to both its decision to re-enter Iraq without a proper security assessment and its maintenance of security at the Canal Hotel compound. (R&R 3.) As to ABC, Bisson claimed that the organization was liable for intentionally planning, conspiring to execute, and executing a terrorist attack on the compound, and for causing numerous deaths and injuries, including to Bisson. (R&R 3.)

Bisson has been reimbursed by the WFP's Staff Compensation Plan (SCP) for medical, hospital, and other expenses directly associated with her injuries and has also been offered compensation in the amount of $104,000 for permanent partial incapacity. (R&R 28 n.23.) She claims general damages stemming from the defendants' gross negligence and intentionally tortuous conduct. (R&R 3.)

On December 20, 2006, Nicolas Michel ("Michel"), the UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, sent a letter to the Deputy Permanent Representative of the United States and to the Court asserting that the UN and WFP were immune from suit. (R&R 4.) Michel also requested that the United States take appropriate steps to ensure that those immunities were protected. (R&R 4.) On February 27, 2007, Bisson filed a brief with the Court, arguing that neither the UN nor the WFP were immune from suit. (R&R 4.) On March 2, 2007, Michel sent a second letter reasserting immunity for the UN and WFP and once again requesting the United States' involvement in the matter. (R&R 4.) On March 27, 2007, Assistant United States Attorney Serrin Turner submitted a letter response to Bisson's brief. (R&R 4-5.) After a series of letters by both parties, Magistrate Judge Peck issued his R&R, recommending that Bisson's claims be dismissed.


I. Standard of Review

According to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), a district court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." However, when a timely objection has been made to the magistrate judge's recommendations, the district court must review the contested portions of the recommendation de novo. See Walker v. Hood, 679 F. Supp. 372, 374 (S.D.N.Y. 1988).

As Bisson does not contest dismissal of her claim against ABC, the Court accepts without further review Magistrate Judge Peck's recommendation to dismiss the claim for failure to serve process. Bisson does, however, contest dismissal of her claims against the UN and WFP. ...

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