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Polak v. International Monetary Fund

September 28, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Re Document Nos.: 2, 3



This matter comes before the court on the defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The plaintiff, renowned economist Dr. Jacques Polak, commenced the instant action against the defendant, the International Monetary Fund ("IMF"), alleging negligence and negligence per se in the construction and maintenance of stairs on the IMF's premises. The defendant moves to dismiss the case, maintaining that the IMF is immune from suit and that such immunity deprives the court of subject matter jurisdiction. In response, the plaintiff denies that the defendant is immune and moves for a stay of the case pending jurisdictional discovery on that issue. The court agrees that the defendant is immune from the instant suit and grants the defendant's motion to dismiss. In addition, because granting discovery would not yield information that would bear on the defendant's immunity, the court denies the plaintiff's motion for jurisdictional discovery.


On November 15, 2007, the plaintiff attended the defendant's eighth annual Jacques Polak Research Conference at the defendant's headquarters in Washington, D.C. Compl. ¶ 6. As the plaintiff was descending the stairs in the headquarters conference room, he fell and struck his head, sustaining "serious, permanent, debilitating injuries." Id. ¶ 8. As a result of these injuries, the plaintiff asserts he requires ongoing medical care. Id. ¶ 9.

The plaintiff filed suit on August 14, 2008, alleging that the defendant was negligent in failing to construct and maintain the stairs at a safe incline, warn the plaintiff about the condition of the stairs and provide an adequate handrail. Id. ¶¶ 15-21. The plaintiff also claims the defendant was negligent per se for failing to equip the conference room stairs with a handrail as required by the District of Columbia Building Code. Id. ¶ 10.

The defendant moves to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) on the grounds that it is immune from suit under both the Bretton Woods Agreements Act ("BWAA") and the International Organizations Immunities Act ("IOIA"). Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss at 1. The plaintiff opposes the defendant's motion to dismiss and moves to stay the case pending jurisdictional discovery. See generally Mem. in Support of Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss & Mot. for Stay ("Mem. in Support of Pl.'s Mot. for Stay"). The court now turns to the applicable legal standard and the parties' arguments.


A. Legal Standard for a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to 12(b)(1)

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and the law presumes that "a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288-89 (1938); see also Gen. Motors Corp. v. Envtl. Prot. Agency, 363 F.3d 442, 448 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (noting that "[a]s a court of limited jurisdiction, we begin, and end, with an examination of our jurisdiction").

Because "subject-matter jurisdiction is an 'Art[icle] III as well as a statutory requirement[,] no action of the parties can confer subject-matter jurisdiction upon a federal court.'" Akinseye v. District of Columbia, 339 F.3d 970, 971 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (quoting Ins. Corp. of Ir., Ltd. v. Compagnie des Bauxite de Guinea, 456 U.S. 694, 702 (1982)). On a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the court has subject matter jurisdiction. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992).

Because subject matter jurisdiction focuses on the court's power to hear the claim, however, the court must give the plaintiff's factual allegations closer scrutiny when resolving a Rule 12(b)(1) motion than would be required for a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim. Macharia v. United States, 334 F.3d 61, 64, 69 (D.C. Cir. 2003); Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F. Supp. 2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001). Thus, the court is not limited to the allegations contained in the complaint. Hohri v. United States, 782 F.2d 227, 241 (D.C. Cir. 1986), vacated on other grounds, 482 U.S. 64 (1987). When necessary, the court may consider the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced ...

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