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Wultz v. Bank of China Ltd.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

October 29, 2012

Sheryl WULTZ, individually, as personal representative of the Estate of Daniel Wultz, and as the natural guardian of plaintiff Abraham Leonard Wultz; Yekutiel Wultz, individually, as personal representative of the Estate of Daniel Wultz, and as the natural guardian of plaintiff Abraham Leonard Wultz; Amanda Wultz; and Abraham Leonard Wultz, minor, by his next friends and guardians Sheryl Wultz and Yekutiel Wultz, Plaintiffs,
v.
BANK OF CHINA LIMITED, Defendant.

Page 549

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 550

David Boies, Esq., Mary Boies, Esq., Olav A. Haazen, Esq., Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, Armonk, NY, Lee S. Wolosky, Esq., Marilyn C. Kunstler, Esq., Jaime Sneider, Esq., Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, New York, NY, for Plaintiffs.

Mitchell R. Berger, Esq., Patton Boggs LLP (DC), Washington, D.C., David Taylor Case, Esq., K & L Gates LLP (DC), Washington, DC, Lanier Saperstein, Esq., Allen & Overy LLP, New York, NY, Elissa Judith Glasband, Esq., James Edward Tyrrell, Jr., Esq., Patton Boggs LLP (NJ), Newark, NJ, Geoffrey R. Sant, Esq., Morrison & Foerster LLP (NYC), Sarah Peck Kenney, Esq., Walter P. Loughlin, Esq., K & L Gates LLP (NYC), Siubhan JosephineEllen Magee, Esq., Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP (NY), Zachary Warren Carter, Esq., Dorsey & Whitney LLP, New York, NY, for Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER

SHIRA A. SCHEINDLIN, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This suit arises out of the death of Daniel Wultz and the injuries of Yekutiel Wultz, suffered in a 2006 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, Israel. Four members of the Wultz family brought suit against Bank of China (" BOC" or " the Bank" ), alleging acts of international terrorism and aiding and abetting international terrorism under the Antiterrorism Act (" ATA" ),[1] as well as negligence, breach of statutory duty, and vicarious liability. Plaintiffs filed this action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on August 8, 2008.[2] The general facts and procedural history of the case were laid out in previous opinions [3] and familiarity with them is assumed.

Before the Court is plaintiffs' motion to compel BOC to produce documents under its control. Some of these documents are the subject of an outstanding Letter of Request from this Court to the Ministry of Justice of China under the Hague Convention on the Taking of Evidence Abroad in Civil or Commercial Matters (the " Hague Convention" ). BOC's opposition to plaintiff's motion encourages this Court to wait for a response to the Letter of Request, and argues that plaintiffs' discovery requests should be narrowed and made more specific. For the reasons stated below, plaintiffs' motion is granted with certain limitations.

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II. BACKGROUND

On June 16, 2011, plaintiffs made their first set of requests to BOC for the production of documents. The requests included: first, documents concerning bank accounts related to Said al-Shurafa, an alleged leader of the terrorist organization responsible for the bombing, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (" PIJ" ); second, documents concerning investigations of BOC or sanctions imposed on BOC by any governmental agency, domestic or foreign; third, documents concerning communications with any governmental agency about BOC's anti-money laundering procedures; and, fourth, documents identified by BOC in its initial disclosures.[4] BOC's response argued that the bank secrecy laws of the People's Republic of China prohibited BOC from producing requested documents.[5] In response to BOC's request for guidance, BOC's Chinese regulator, the People's Bank of China (" PBOC" ), directed BOC to " act in accordance with the Hague Evidence Convention" and stated:

As long as the demands submitted by the U.S. judicial authorities are in compliance with ... the Hague Evidence Convention, and do not violate fundamental principles of law of the People's Republic of China, China's judicial authorities and relevant financial management departments will take them seriously and provide reasonable assistance.[6]

Based on PBOC's response, BOC asked this Court to issue a request to Chinese authorities under the Hague Convention.[7] Plaintiffs did not object. [8] On August 31, 2011, pursuant to the Hague Convention, this Court issued a Letter of Request to the International Legal Cooperation Center of the Ministry of Justice of the PRC.[9] The letter described the subject matter of the present case and requested that the Ministry grant BOC permission to disclose the relevant documents to plaintiffs, or, if necessary, to the Ministry itself, which could then transmit the documents to this Court. [10]

As of the date of this Opinion— more than thirteen months later— this Court has received no response to the Letter of Request. On February 20, 2012, BOC emailed the Ministry to inquire into the status of the request.[11] The Ministry responded on the same day that the request had been forwarded on September 29, 2011 to the Foreign Affairs Bureau of the Supreme People's Court of China, and that " [a]ccording to usual practice," this Bureau " will arrange for execution by relevant local courts and return the execution results" to the Ministry, which " will reply to

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the requesting party ... as soon as possible." [12]

A September 3, 2012 circular from PBOC to BOC concerning the status of the Letter of Request stated that on March 26, 2012, the Bureau requested PBOC's assistance with the Letter of Request; that PBOC " conducted a review" of the request, which has now been completed; and that " [f]ollowing the completion of domestic approval procedures, the Supreme People's Court will, through the Ministry of Justice ... submit relevant evidentiary materials to the United States Department of Justice in the near future." [13] BOC's counsel has stated, without citation to the record, that " [i]t is my understanding that the Hague Convention request to the PRC in this action is the first one to involve a PRC bank as a defendant, and raised time-consuming issues of first impression." [14]

In an August 20, 2012 scheduling order, this Court ordered all documents to be produced by October 31, 2012.[15] While the parties have waited for the Ministry's response to this Court's Letter of Request, BOC has apparently produced 639 pages of documents from its New York branch, including " compliance manuals, [and] documents evidencing certain banking transactions," but no emails or electronic documents.[16]

III. APPLICABLE LAW

In Socié té Nationale Industrielle Aé rospatiale, the Supreme Court established that the use of the Hague Convention process is optional, not mandatory, and does not deprive a District Court of the jurisdiction it would otherwise possess " to order a foreign national party before it to produce evidence physically located within a signatory nation." [17] At the same time, the Supreme Court emphasized that " international comity" (" the spirit of cooperation in which a domestic tribunal approaches the resolution of cases touching the laws and interests of other sovereign states" ) " requires in this context a ... particularized analysis of the respective interests of the foreign nation and the requesting nation." [18]

When evaluating the propriety of an order directing the production of information or documents in contravention of foreign law, courts in the Second Circuit consider the following ...


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