Samantar v. Yousuf

PETITIONER:Mohamed Ali Samantar
RESPONDENT:Bashe Abdi Yousuf, et al.

DOCKET NO.: 08-1555
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2009-2010)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 560 US 305 (2010)
GRANTED: Sep 30, 2009
ARGUED: Mar 03, 2010
DECIDED: Jun 01, 2010

Edwin S. Kneedler – Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States as amicus curiae, supporting the respondents
Patricia A. Millett – for the respondents
Shay Dvoretzky – for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Natives of Somalia filed suit against Mohamed Ali Samantar in a Virginia federal district court under the Torture Victim Protection Act (“TVPA”) and the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”). Plaintiffs alleged that Mr. Samantar committed torture and other human rights violations while he commanded Somali government agents under the regime of Mohamed Siad Barre. The district court dismissed the case, holding that Mr. Samantar was immune to suit under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”).

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that the FSIA did not render Mr. Samantar immune to suit. The court reasoned that the FSIA does not apply to foreign government officials. The court further reasoned that even if the FSIA does apply to foreign government officials, it does not apply to former foreign government officials.


1) Does a foreign state’s FSIA immunity from suit extend to an individual acting in his official capacity on behalf of the foreign state?

2) Does an individual who is no longer a government official of a foreign state at the time suit is filed retain FSIA immunity for acts taken in that individual’s former capacity as a government official acting on behalf of a foreign state?

Media for Samantar v. Yousuf

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 03, 2010 in Samantar v. Yousuf

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 01, 2010 in Samantar v. Yousuf

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Stevens has our opinion this morning in case 08-1555, Samantar versus Yousuf.

John Paul Stevens:

The petitioner in this case was a high-level government official in Somalia in the 1980s.

He fled Somalia in 1991 and now resides in the United States.

Respondents are natives of Somalia who allege that they or members of their families were the victims of torture and extrajudicial killings in Somalia.

They sued petitioner for damages based on his role in their persecution.

The District Court dismissed respondents’ lawsuit on the ground that petitioner was immune from suit under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

That act provides that a “foreign state” is immune from the jurisdiction of the United States Courts unless of one of — unless one of the exceptions in the Act applies.

It defines foreign state to include in “agency or instrumentality” of foreign state.

The District Court concluded that a foreign official acting in his official capacity as petitioner did here was covered by the immunity that the Act extends to foreign states, because the foreign official was an agency or instrumentality of the state.

Respondents appealed and the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed.

It held that the Act does not apply to individual officials of a foreign state.

Therefore, the Court of Appeals concluded the Act does not govern petitioners claim to immunity from suit and his claim to immunity is instead governed by the common law of Foreign Sovereign Immunity.

We granted certiorari to reserve – to resolve the Circuit split on the issue.

Based on our review of the text, purpose and legislative history of the act, we conclude that it does not govern the termination of a foreign official’s claim to immunity.

Whether petitioner may be entitled to immunity under the common law, is a matter to be addressed in the first instance on remand.

We, therefore, affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Our judgment is unanimous, but Justice Alito has filed a concurring opinion, Justice Thomas has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment and Justice Scalia has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.