11th Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Claims Against Venezuela by Cuban Medical Professionals

September 30, 2011

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld a lower court decision to dismiss all claims against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and its state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), in an action brought by a group of Cuban medical professionals.

In an opinion issued Sept. 21, the 11th Circuit affirmed the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida’s January decision in Lubian, et al. v. Cuba, et al., which held that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) because the defendants were foreign states under the FSIA and no exception to their sovereign immunity applied to the facts as alleged by the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs in the case were Cuban medical professionals who alleged they were kept in positions of forced labor in Venezuela.

The plaintiffs alleged various human rights abuses by Venezuela, PDVSA, and Cuba and sought hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. Their claims allegedly arose out of an agreement between Venezuela and Cuba under which Venezuela (through PDVSA) provided oil to Cuba in exchange for the services of Cuban medical professionals, who allegedly were forced to work in Venezuela against their will.

The 11th Circuit upheld the U.S. District Court’s ruling that the plaintiffs’ allegations did not satisfy the requirements of any of the FSIA’s exceptions to immunity. Specifically, the Court determined that the FSIA’s commercial activities exception did not apply to the plaintiffs’ allegations because the alleged acts were not commercial in nature and did not have a direct effect in the United States. The Court also ruled that the plaintiffs failed to meet any of the requirements of the FSIA’s terrorism exception.

Foley Hoag LLP represented Venezuela in the Southern District of Florida and the 11th Circuit. The legal team included Andrew Schwartz, Ronald Goodman, Richard Baldwin, Katie Perry and Jennifer Tanney. The case was docketed as number 11-10662 in the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

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