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Sikhs for Justice v. Gandhi

United States District Court, E.D. New York

June 9, 2014

SIKHS FOR JUSTICE, on behalf of deceased and injured members of the Sikh community, JASBIR SINGH, individually and on behalf of deceased family members, and MOHENDER SINGH, individually and on behalf of his deceased father, SARDAR DARSHAN SINGH, Plaintiffs,
v.
SONIA GANDHI, a national and citizen of India in her personal capacity and as President, Indian National Congress, a/k/a CONGRESS (I) Defendant.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

BRIAN M. COGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiffs bring this putative class action pursuant to the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1350 (the "ATS"), and the Torture Victim Protection Act, 106 Stat. 73, note following 28 U.S.C. § 1350 (the "TVPA"). Defendant moves to dismiss plaintiffs' Amended Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim.[1] Defendant also requests that this Court impose an injunction prohibiting plaintiffs from bringing further litigation. For the following reasons, defendant's motion is granted, except as to her request for an anti-suit injunction.

BACKGROUND

When a defendant moves to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the allegations in the complaint are deemed true for the limited purpose of considering the motion. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009). The following facts are therefore taken from the Amended Complaint.

On October 31, 1984, Indira Gandhi, then the Prime Minister of India and head of the Indian National Congress ("Congress (I)") political party, was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. Her assassination sparked anti-Sikh riots throughout India in November of 1984, during which a large number of Sikhs were killed and injured (the "anti-Sikh riots"). Plaintiff Sikhs for Justice ("SFJ") is a domestic non-profit organization which was "formed to seek justice and compensation for those Sikhs who were injured or whose family members were killed and whose property was destroyed during the Sikh Genocide of November 1984." The two individual plaintiffs, Mohender Singh and Jasbir Singh, are both victims of the anti-Sikh riots.

Mohender Singh ("Mohender") is a native of India who is currently residing in California. Mohender came to America in 2008. Mohender's family home was attacked during the anti-Sikh riots, and his father, Sardar Darshan Singh, and two of his uncles were killed.

The Amended Complaint further alleges that in August 2013, a group of Congress (I) workers attacked Tilak Vihar, an area of New Dehli. Plaintiffs claim, without elaboration, that as a result of this attack "Mohender Singh and his family sustained severe physical and emotional harm." Mohender purports to bring this action on behalf of himself and his deceased father, and also apparently on behalf of his unidentified relatives injured in the 2013 attack on Tilak Vihar.

Jasbir Singh ("Jasbir") is a native of India who also currently resides in California. Jasbir came to America in 2002, and received asylum in 2007. The Amended Complaint alleges that Jasbir's family home was also attacked during the anti-Sikh riots; his uncle was murdered, and Jasbir narrowly escaped. Thereafter, Jasbir was active in a campaign seeking justice for Sikh victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. The Amended Complaint states that Jasbir was detained and tortured by police on several occasions in connection with these activities, allegedly at the behest of Congress (I) leaders.

Defendant Sonia Gandhi is the President of the Congress (I) party, and has been since 1998. Defendant's husband, Rajiv Gandhi, became the Prime Minister of India after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, his mother. The Amended Complaint alleges that defendant participated in the organizing and implementing of the anti-Sikh riots, although the only factual allegation specific to the defendant is that she attended at least one of several meetings that were held at Congress (I) headquarters immediately after the assassination of Indira Gandhi and prior to the anti-Sikh riots. Plaintiffs allege that the anti-Sikh riots were planned at these meetings. Further, plaintiffs allege that beginning in 1998, defendant began a campaign of shielding, protecting and rewarding many of perpetrators of the anti-Sikh riots.

DISCUSSION

I. Alien Tort Statute

Plaintiffs' claims under the ATS must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because they are plainly barred under the Supreme Court's decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 1659 (2013). As the Second Circuit subsequently made clear in Kiobel, "[t]he Supreme Court expressly held that claims under the ATS cannot be brought for violations of the law of nations occurring within the territory of a sovereign other than the United States." Balintulo v. Daimler AG, 727 F.3d 174, 189 (2d Cir. 2013) (citing Kiobel, 133 S.Ct. at 1662, 1668-69). Here, all of the events at issue occurred in India. "[I]f all the relevant conduct occurred abroad, that is simply the end of the matter under Kiobel." Balintulo, 727 F.3d at 190.

Kiobel does not, however, prevent plaintiffs from bringing claims under the TVPA. See Chowdhury v. Worldtel Bangladesh Holding, Ltd., 746 F.3d 42, 50-51 (2d Cir. 2014) ("We find no support in Kiobel or any other authority for the proposition that the territorial constraints on common-law causes of action under the ATS apply to the statutory cause of action created by the TVPA.").

II. Torture Victim's Protection Act

A. Standing

1. Sikhs For ...


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