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Laventure v. United Nations

United States District Court, E.D. New York

August 23, 2017

MARIE LAVENTURE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED NATIONS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          SANDRA L. TOWNES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs brought this putative class action against the United Nations ("UN"), the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti ("MINUSTAH"), and six current or former UN officials, seeking redress for injuries and death that resulted from an outbreak of cholera in Haiti in 2010. Defendants allegedly caused the outbreak by deploying cholera-infected UN peacekeeping troops to Haiti. Because defendants enjoy immunity from suit and because they have not waived that immunity here, the Court dismisses this action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

         I. Background

         A. Parties

         Plaintiffs Marie, Maggie, Sane, and Carmen Laventure are citizens of the United States or Haiti who reside in Queens, New York or Atlanta, Georgia. Second Amended Complaint dated June 23, 2017, Dkt. No. 20 ("2d Am. Compl."), ¶¶ 19-22.[1] Plaintiffs' father (Cherylusse Laventure) and stepmother (Marie Ttherese Fleuriciahe Delinais) died after contracting cholera in Haiti during the fall of 2012. Id. ¶¶ 214-23. Plaintiffs purport to sue on behalf of themselves, the estates of their deceased parents, and all others similarly situated.

         Defendant UN is an international organization founded in 1945 and headquartered in New York City. Id. ¶ 26. The UN's functions include "'maintain[ing] international peace and security"' and "'promot[ing] and encourage[ing] respect for human rights.5" Id. (first alteration in original). Defendant MINUSTAH, a "subsidiary organ of the UN" based in Port-au-Prince, was established in 2004 to "enhance stability . .., promote democracy and rule of law, and support the Haitian government as well as Haitian human rights institutions and groups." Id. ¶¶ 27, 62. MINUSTAH's operations in Haiti are governed in part by a Status of Forces Agreement ("SOFA") which was executed between the UN and the Haitian government in July 2004. Id. ¶¶ 60, 64.

         Defendant Ban Ki-moon was, at all relevant times, the Secretary-General of the UN. Id. ¶ 28. The other individual defendants, Edmond Mulet, Chandra Srivastava, Paul Aghadjanian, Pedro Medrano, and Miguel de Serpa Soares, held various positions at the UN that involved the organization's activities in Haiti during the relevant period. Id. ¶¶ 29-34.

         B. Alleged Facts

         Between October 9 and 16, 2010, defendants UN and MINUSTAH deployed 1, 075 Nepalese peacekeeping troops to Haiti. Id. ¶ 73. Before their deployment, these troops received three months of training near the Kathmandu Valley-an area of Nepal that had experienced a widely reported cholera outbreak. Id. ¶¶ 74-75. In Haiti, the troops were stationed at a base near water banks that connected to the Artibonite River, a primary source of water for tens of thousands of Haitians. Id. ¶ 11. Untreated human waste from the base seeped into the water banks, which resulted in an outbreak of cholera along the Artibonite River and eventually throughout the country. Id. ¶¶ 11, 13.

         Before the arrival of the Nepalese troops in October 2010, Haiti had no reported cases of cholera. Id. ¶ 8. Between October 2010 and May 2011, more than 4, 500 Haitians died from the disease. Id. ¶ 163. The death toll has now surpassed 9, 000. Id. ¶¶ 2, 42. Cherylusse Laventure and Marie Ttherese Fleuriciane Delinais, the father and stepmother of the named plaintiffs, are among the victims. Id. ¶¶ 19-23.

         Defendants UN and MINUSTAH failed to test the Nepalese troops for cholera before their deployment. Id. ¶ 78. In March 2012, authors of a peer-reviewed study concluded that all evidence "point[ed] to Nepalese UN peacekeepers as the initial source of cholera in Haiti." Id. ¶ 182. On December 1, 2016, defendant and then-Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that, on behalf of the UN, he was "'profoundly sorry'" for the organization's role in Haiti's cholera epidemic and that it had a "'moral responsibility' to make things right." Id. ¶ 17.

         C. Plaintiffs' Claims

         Based on defendants' actions, plaintiffs assert claims of negligence, gross negligence, recklessness, wrongful death, negligent supervision, negligent and intentional inflection of emotional distress, nuisance, and breach of contract. Id. ¶¶ 228-89. As an alternative to damages, plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment stating, among other things, that "the UN is required by law to establish a standing claims commission for Haiti, to process the Plaintiff class's third-party claims for property loss or damage and personal injury, illness or death arising from or directly attributed to MINUSTAH and its wrongful acts." Id. ¶ 298.

         D. ...


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