A lawsuit filed against the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus ("TRNC") in the US District Court of the District of Columbia seeking an astonishing $400 billion for alleged property losses was dismissed this month for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Court's opinion effectively prevents potential claimants from brining lawsuits against the TRNC in Washington, DC based solely on the presence of its Representative Office here. One effect of the decision is to give the TRNC Representative Office a degree of immunity higher than that enjoyed by foreign companies who do business in the US, but less than the immunity enjoyed by recognized states with embassies in the US. The case, Michali Toumazou et al. v. TRNC et al., Case No. 09-1967 (PLF), was filed on October 19, 2009, decided on October 1, 2014, and the Court's opinion was released October 9, 2014.
In a significant victory for the TRNC, the court ruled that courts in the District of Columbia could not assert personal jurisdiction over the TRNC for actions that have no relation to the District. Applying the Supreme Court's recently articulated "at home" test, the Court held that the TRNC must have contacts with the District sufficiently consistent and systematic to render it "at home" in the District. According to the Court, the TRNC government is "at home" in Northern Cyprus. Additionally, the Court recognized that the plaintiffs' claims against the TRNC did not arise out of transactions in the District.
Further, the Court confirmed the "government contacts exception" as applied to the TRNC. The government contacts exception prevents a court from exerting personal jurisdiction over a defendant whose actions in Washington, DC are primarily to interact with the US federal government. This is the first case in which the exception has been applied to the representative office of an unrecognized foreign government.
This decision is consequential for the TRNC government because it does not enjoy the immunity afforded to recognized foreign states under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. The court's ruling prevents Washington, DC from becoming a convenient jurisdiction where any and all grievances against the TRNC government can be aired, regardless of where they arose. The case also made allegations against HSBC Bank, which were also dismissed, though on different grounds.
Negotiations between the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities toward unification under a bi-communal and bi-zonal federation have been proceeding on a nearly continual basis since 1975 with US and UN support, and are continuing today, though with periodic pauses. Representatives from the TRNC in Washington are issued visas referring to them as a "Representative of the TRNC in Washington, D.C." The State Department provides these representatives with a letter that acknowledges their status and purpose as the formal and official representatives of the Turkish Cypriot community, that they are favorably known to the Department in this capacity, that they interact with U.S. officials "on a regular, long-term basis," and that the "United States' overarching objective on Cyprus is to help foster a comprehensive settlement that reunifies the island into a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation."
Subsequent to its decision in the Toumazou case, the court issued orders in the related cases, Fiouris et al. v. TRNC et al. Case No. 10-01225 (PLF) (filed July 20, 2010) and Latchford et al. v. TRNC et al. Case No. 12-846 (PLF) (filed May 24, 2012), asking the plaintiffs why these should not be dismissed pursuant to the order issued in the Toumazou case. The plaintiffs in those cases have not yet responded.
It is not known whether the Toumazou plaintiffs will appeal