Intl. Finance Corp. lawsuit (re financing of coal-fired plant in India)

Tata power. Credit: Earth Rights InternationalIn November 2015, Indian fishermen and farmers filed a lawsuit against the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in US federal court over environmental damage from the Tata Mundra plant in Gujarat, India, a power plant that the IFC financed.  In March 2016, a judge ruled that the IFC could not be sued in this case. 

In August 2016, affected communities and farmers filed an appeal arguing that, under recent US Supreme Court decisions, the IFC is not entitled to absolute immunity and should be subject to suit for damage caused by the power plant.  On 23 June 2017, a US court of appeals ruled that the IFC is entitled to “absolute immunity” and cannot be sued by the communities harmed by IFC projects.  In July 2017, the affected communities asked a court to review the "absolute immunity" doctrine. On 26 September 2017, a US Court of Appeals ruled that it would not reconsider the immunity rule. On 22 January 2018, the plaintiffs appealed to the US Supreme Court. On 21 May 2018, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, thereby accepting to consider the question of whether or not international organizations such as the World Bank are immune from being sued.

 

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Article
21 May 2018

Seeking Justice: US Supreme Court Will Hear Case on World Bank Group’s “Absolute Immunity”

Author: Carly Dooley, Marie Mekosh, Center for International Environmental Law

When a project funded by the World Bank and other development banks harms local communities, where can they turn to?...[I]n the US, these organizations have absolute legal immunity, meaning that they can’t be sued even in cases of explicitly illegal behavior...[F]or the first time, the US Supreme Court will address international organizations’ immunity from harmful or illegal conduct.  This case could pave the way for communities around the world to finally achieve meaningful relief from the damage international institutions leave behind...Indian fishing communities and farmers are challenging the IFC, a branch of the World Bank, for its role in the controversial Tata Mundra coal-fired power plant...In 2008, the IFC provided India with $450 million in loans to construct the Tata Mundra Power Plant...When the IFC’s own independent accountability mechanism (the CAO) investigated the project, it...denounced the bank’s failure to ensure that the project wouldn’t harm those it was ultimately meant to help...[T]he IFC largely rejected the CAO’s findings and failed to implement any plans that would remedy the harms to the communities...Continuing to grant “absolute immunity” disregards the effects of World Bank Group projects and actions on local communities, the very people projects are supposed to benefit...The IFC’s rigid adherence to this immunity only raises questions about whether they are truly evaluating projects in line with their stated goal of “helping to reduce poverty and improve people’s lives.”  We hope that the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case points not only to a recognition of the communities devastated by one power plant in India, but to all the communities impacted by development projects around the world...

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Article
21 May 2018

U.S. Supreme Court Will Hear Landmark Case Challenging World Bank Group Immunity

Author: EarthRights International

...[T]he U.S. Supreme Court announced it will hear a landmark lawsuit challenging the immunity of powerful institutions like the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private lending arm of the World Bank Group...International organizations like the IFC have long claimed they are entitled to “absolute” immunity from suit...The case brought by Indian fishing communities and farmers represented by EarthRights International (ERI) and the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, Jam v. IFC, challenges that claim.  The Supreme Court’s decision to hear their case means it will consider international organization immunity for the first time, and decide whether international organizations can be held accountable for their harmful conduct...Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that IFC had “absolute immunity” and could not be sued for its role in the controversial Tata Mundra coal-fired power plant that has devastated communities in Gujarat, India...The Plaintiffs are pleased the Supreme Court will hear their case and optimistic that it will fix this erroneous decision...From the start, the IFC recognized that the Tata Mundra plant was a high-risk project that could have “significant” and “irreversible” adverse impacts on local communities and their environment.  Despite knowing the risks, the IFC provided a critical $450 million loan, enabling the project’s construction and giving the IFC immense influence over project design and operation...

 

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Article
22 January 2018

Indian Fishing Community Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Case Challenging World Bank Group Immunity

Author: EarthRights International

Indian fishing communities and farmers represented by EarthRights International (ERI) and the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court this week to hear their case. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in their case that the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private lending arm of the World Bank Group, had “absolute immunity” and could not be sued for its role in the controversial Tata Mundra coal-fired power plant that has devastated communities in Gujarat, India. Now, the Plaintiffs are asking the Supreme Court to rectify this erroneous decision.

 

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Article
28 September 2017

Indian fishermen vow to keep fighting 'devastating' World Bank project

Author: Rina Chandran, Reuters

Farmers and fishermen who sued an arm of the World Bank - for funding an Indian power plant they say hurts their livelihoods - have vowed to appeal a U.S. court ruling that the institution has “absolute immunity”…

The 4,000 megawatt plant has had a “devastating and irreversible impact” on the coastal ecosystem, reducing fish stocks and destroying livelihoods, according to the communities…

Earlier this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, while noting the damage caused, said it would not reconsider the immunity rule that shields the World Bank group from being sued in the United States.

The communities said they will appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court…

A spokesman for Tata Power said on Thursday that its subsidiary “is in complete compliance with necessary ecological and social parameters of the Indian central and state government, as well as lenders’ performance standards”…  

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Article
27 September 2017

Indian Fishing Communities Will Ask U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Case Against World Bank Group Challenging “Absolute Immunity”

Author: EarthRights International

Indian fishing communities and farmers represented by EarthRights International (ERI) said today that they will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review a decision finding the World Bank Group is entitled to “absolute immunity” from suits in U.S. courts. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled yesterday that it would not reconsider its immunity rule, despite the fact that one judge has stated that this rule is “wrong.” The D.C. Circuit left standing a decision that the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private lending arm of the World Bank Group, could not be sued for its role in the controversial Tata Mundra coal-fired power plant that has devastated communities in Gujarat, India…

“The court’s decision tells the world that the doors of justice are not open to the poor and marginalized when it comes to powerful institutions like IFC,” said Gajendrasinh Jadeja, the head of Navinal Panchayat, a local village involved in the case. “But no one should be above the law.”…

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Article
26 July 2017

Indian communities affected by adverse impacts of coal-fired power plant ask US court to reconsider doctrine of “absolute immunity” from lawsuits of Intl. Finance Corp.

Author: EarthRights International

"Judge Declares World Bank Immunity Cases “Wrongly Decided”; Indian Plaintiffs Ask D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to Review “Absolute Immunity” Doctrine", 25 Jul 2017

After a federal judge declared that cases giving the World Bank Group “absolute immunity” from lawsuits were “wrongly decided,” communities represented by EarthRights International (ERI) have filed a petition asking the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to revisit its immunity doctrine. In June, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled that the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private-lending arm of the World Bank Group, could not be sued for its role in the controversial Tata Mundra coal-fired power plant that has devastated fishing and farming communities in Gujarat, India…

Judge Nina Pillard, however, wrote a separate opinion that criticized those decisions as “wrongly decided” and suggested the full court should reconsider them…

Following Judge Pillard’s suggestion, the plaintiffs’ petition requests rehearing “en banc” – in front of all active D.C. Circuit judges. The plaintiffs are optimistic that the full D.C. Circuit will reconsider the case…

“This decision tells the world that the doors of justice are not open to the poor and marginalized when it comes to powerful institutions like IFC,” added Gajendrasinh Jadeja, the head of Navinal Panchayat, a local village involved in the case. “But no one should be above the law.”…

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Article
27 June 2017

Federal Appeals Court Rules That World Bank Group Cannot Be Sued For Harming Communities

Author: EarthRights International

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has held that the International Finance Corporation (IFC) is entitled to “absolute immunity” from lawsuits brought by communities harmed by IFC projects, in Budha Ismail Jam v. IFC. The case against the IFC, the World Bank Group’s private lending arm, seeks a remedy for IFC’s funding of a controversial power plant that has devastated fishing communities in India.

In a decision issued Friday, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit concluded that previous decisions concerning international organizations like the IFC required the court to find immunity in this case. One of the judges, however, wrote separately, expressing strong disagreement with IFC immunity...

“This decision tells the world that the doors of justice are not open to the poor and marginalized when it comes to powerful institutions like IFC,” said Gajendrasinh Jadeja, the head of Navinal Panchayat, a local village involved in the case...

The plaintiffs plan to challenge the decision by following Judge Pillard’s suggestion and requesting the court re-hear the case “en banc” - in front of all the D.C. Circuit judges instead of a three-judge panel. Other federal courts have disagreed with the D.C. Circuit’s approach, which gives organizations like the IFC even greater immunities than sovereign foreign governments.

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Article
23 June 2017

Budha Ismail Jam, et al. v. International Finance Corporation

Author: US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

[Court opinion]

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Article
14 August 2016

Indian fishermen & farmers appeal US District Court decision in case against Intl. Finance Corp. over environmental damage

Author: Valentina Stackl, EarthRights International

"Indian Communities ask U.S. Court of Appeals to hold World Bank Group Accountable", 10 Aug 2016

[F]ishing communities and farmers asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to hold the International Finance Corporation (IFC) accountable for its role in funding a destructive coal fire powered plant in India. The communities filed suit against the IFC last year over the loss of their livelihoods and property and threats to their health caused by the IFC-funded Tata Mundra coal-fired power plant in Gujarat, India....In March, a federal district court judge dismissed the case after ruling that the IFC, the private lending arm of the World Bank, was entitled to “absolute immunity” from suit and could not be sued...In their appeal..., the Plaintiffs argue that recent Supreme Court cases addressing immunity overturned the D.C. Circuit’s decisions and made clear that the IFC was not entitled to the immunity is claimed.

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Article
11 August 2016

Appeal by fisherman in Indian coal-fired plant lawsuit argues that Intl. Finance Corp. is not entitled to absolute immunity

Author: Richard L. Herz, Marco Simmons & Michelle Harrison, Earthrights International

"Opening Brief of Plaintiffs-Appellants", 9 Aug 2016

...The IOIA entitles the IFC only to “the same immunity from suit...as is enjoyed by foreign governments...Foreign governments, of course, enjoy only restrictive immunity pursuant to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA). But Atkinson held that 1) at the time of the IOIA’s enactment in 1945, foreign sovereign immunity was automatically absolute, and 2) the phrase “as is enjoyed” permanently enshrined immunity as of 1945...Those conclusions conflict with the Supreme Court’s subsequent decisions, and removing either one is enough to undermine Atkinson’s ultimate holding of absolute immunity...Plaintiffs sued the IFC because an IFC - financed project, the Tata Mundra Ultra Mega coal-fired power plant (“the Plant” or “the Project”), has destroyed their meagre livelihoods and threatens their health...

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