Legal Translation for Foreign Plaintiffs in U.S. Courts

Supreme Court Decision Implicitly Underscores Need for Legal Translators

We’ve blogged about legal translation services for American nationals suing foreign governments in United States courts.  On February 27, 2019, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision related to international litigation that seems to make it a little bit easier for foreign plaintiffs to sue international organizations in United States federal court. The case, titled Jam v. International Finance Corp., is a fascinating look at the type of immunity enjoyed by international organizations and how that relates to immunity accorded foreign governments.

Accordingly, this article will discuss the fundamental facts and issues of the Jam case. In addition, we will take a moment to discuss the kind of logistics that must have gone into the litigation of the Jam case. Indeed, with a case like Jam, involving local residents of a foreign country suing in U.S. federal court, in which a great deal of evidence included environmental studies done in the foreign country, it becomes clear that the services of a legal translator are vital in international litigation matters.

Background of Jam v. International Finance Corp.

This case began when an international organization, called the International Finance Corporation, provided a $450 million loan to help finance a coal-fired power plant on the western coast of India. The International Finance Corporation makes loans to private businesses to finance projects in developing countries. The $450 million loan in India was in response to India’s increasing need for power in the country.

• Adverse Environmental Impacts on the Land Around the Plant

One important facet of the International Finance Corporation’s loan agreement was that the power company that was building the plant would do so without any adverse impact on the surrounding environment. Unfortunately, Indian residents who lived by the plant found the new plant to be an environmental disaster. The plant’s pollution killed fish, ruined drinking water wells used by the residents for drinking water and irrigation, and contaminated nearby farmland.

Although the negative environmental impact would have been a breach of the loan agreement, the International Finance Corporation did not do anything to enforce that provision in the loan agreement.

Can Foreign Citizens Sue in U.S. Courts?

Accordingly, residents, including lead plaintiff Budha Ismael Jam and other Indian fisherman and farmers, filed suit in federal court in Washington D.C., because that is where International Finance Corporation is headquartered. The lawsuit included mostly tort law claims, but the plaintiffs also alleged that they were third-party beneficiaries to the loan agreement between International Finance Corporation and the Indian power company.

The International Finance Corporation, however, asserted immunity. It argued that a law called the International Organizations Immunities Act (IOIA) gives it immunity in the case because the law gives international organizations the “same immunity from suit . . . as is enjoyed by foreign governments.” Further, when the IOIA was enacted in 1945, foreign governments enjoyed almost absolute immunity.

The residents countered that the International Finance Corporation only enjoys the type of immunity foreign governments have today, not back in 1945. Notably, foreign governments enjoy a more limited immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, passed in 1976.

The Supreme Court’s Decision

The Court sided with the Indian fisherman and farmers. In a 7-1 decision, with the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court reversed the lower court’s decision, finding that the most natural way to read the IOIA “same as” language was to find that the International Finance Corporation enjoyed the more limited immunity currently enjoyed by foreign governments.

Rejecting the International Finance Corporation’s position, the Court maintained that the relevant immunity provision was meant to make foreign-government immunity and international-organization immunity “continuously equivalent” to each other.

What Does Jam Say About the Need for Legal Translators?

While the factual background and decision are interesting in their own right, what jumps out of this case is the amount of multilingual multinational litigation necessary to bring the case ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court. The following stages of the litigation required the use of professional legal translation services.

• The Indian residents in this case needed to secure litigation counsel in Washington D.C. It is therefore necessary to have English-Hindi legal translators and interpreters to make sure that the plaintiffs can effectively communicate with counsel.
• At the trial level, an immense amount of environmental evidence was required to support the argument that the new power plant was, in fact, an environmental disaster. It is most likely that the studies done in India were in a language native to that region of India. Or, conversely, if environmental studies were conducted by English-speaking scientists, then those scientists, and attorneys, needed English to Hindi technical translators during that process.
• Also, at the trial stage, Indian witness statements or written certifications required proper translations by Hindi to English legal interpreters and translators who understand the importance of precision with such legal testimony.
• Finally, all other stages of the appeal process require competent legal translators to ensure that counsel or representatives of the Indian plaintiffs were kept apprised of the appeal’s progress.

When it comes to the need for legal translator and legal interpreter services for foreign plaintiffs who sue international organizations in U.S. courts, you want to make sure that you obtain the services of an experienced, reliable, and professional legal translation company. In that vein, we welcome you to learn more about the legal translation services for foreign plaintiffs at All Language Alliance, Inc. Visit www.languagealliance.com today to learn more.

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