*fn5,The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge,MANUEL GUDIEL GARCIA, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS, v. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, ET AL., DEFENDANTS." />

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Garcia v. Sebelius

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 29, 2013

Manuel Gudiel GARCIA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Kathleen SEBELIUS, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al., Defendants.

Page 44

Rachel A. Sheridan, Conrad & Scherer, Terry P. Collingsworth, Piper M. Hendricks, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.

Laura Katherine Smith, U.S. Department of Justice, Jeffrey T. Green, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

REGGIE B. WALTON, District Judge.

The plaintiffs brought this action under the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1350 (2006), and the United States Constitution seeking redress for " non-consensual human medical experimentation that took place in Guatemala from ... 1946 to 1953, and any subsequent medical testing that lasted beyond 1953 at the hands of American and Guatemalan doctors and government officials ... who were continuing the initial program." First Amended Class Action Complaint for Injunctive Relief and Damages ¶¶ 2, 14. By Memorandum Opinion and Order dated June 13, 2012, the Court granted the defendants' various

Page 45

motions to dismiss and denied the plaintiffs' motion for entry of default judgment as to defendant Mirta Roses. Garcia v. Sebelius, 867 F.Supp.2d 125, 129-30 (D.D.C.2012). However, the Court " condition[ed] its vacatur of the Clerk's [entry of] default" as to defendant Roses " upon Roses's reimbursement of the plaintiffs' reasonable fees and costs." Id. at 140. In a subsequent status report, Roses questioned (for the first time) whether this Court had the authority to impose costs upon her, which led the Court to order supplemental briefing on this issue.[1] Upon consideration of the parties' supplemental briefs,[2] the Court concludes for the following reasons that the Clerk's entry of default against Roses was void from the outset based on Roses's statutory immunity, and that the Court therefore erred in attempting to place conditions on its vacatur of the entry of default. Accordingly, the Court will vacate in part its June 13, 2012 Memorandum Opinion and Order and strike the Clerk's entry of default from the docket.

The Court discussed the background of this case at length in its prior opinion and will not do so again here. Suffice it to say that the current controversy was generated by the following passage from the Court's prior opinion:

The plaintiffs maintain that if the Court decides to vacate the default, Roses should be ordered " to reimburse them for mailing and court costs and attorney's fees incurred in sending numerous notices and filing for default because of her failure to respond." Pls.' Opp'n to Roses's Mot. at 9. Roses does not object or even respond to this request. See Roses's Reply at 14-15. " ‘ In determining whether to exercise its discretion to set aside a default, ... a district court has inherent power to impose a reasonable condition on the vacatur in order to avoid undue prejudice to the opposing party.’ " Capital Yacht Club v. Vessel AVIVA, 228 F.R.D. 389, 395 (D.D.C.2005)(quoting Powerserve Int'l, Inc. v. Lavi, 239 F.3d 508, 515-16 (2d Cir.2001)). And " [t]he condition most commonly imposed is that the defendant reimburse the plaintiff for costs— typically court costs and attorney's fees— incurred because of the default." Thorpe v. Thorpe, 364 F.2d 692, 694 (D.C.Cir.1966). The Court finds the imposition of this condition appropriate here, in view of Roses's initial failure to respond to the Complaint and the costs and attorney's fees incurred by the plaintiffs as a result of Roses's default. Thus, the Court will condition its vacatur of the Clerk's default upon Roses's reimbursement of the plaintiffs' reasonable fees and costs, subject to the terms set forth in the Order accompanying this Memorandum Opinion.

Garcia, 867 F.Supp.2d at 140. The Court then addressed Roses's argument that she was entitled to immunity under the

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International Organizations Immunities Act of 1945 (" IOIA" ), 22 U.S.C. § 288a(b) (2006). Id. Agreeing with Roses's position, the Court held that the IOIA provided " absolute immunity" to Roses for acts performed in her official capacity as the Director of the Pan-American Health Organization (" PAHO" ), and that this immunity had been neither limited by the President of the United States nor waived by the PAHO. See id. at 140-43. The Court thus granted dismissal of the plaintiffs' claims against Roses for lack of jurisdiction. Id. at 144. Roses now argues that the Court's imposition of costs as a condition of vacating the Clerk's entry of default is irreconcilable with her immunity under the IOIA. See Roses's Suppl. Br. 1-2.

In addressing this argument, the Court's analysis must begin with the relevant language of the IOIA, which provides that

[i]nternational organizations, their property and their assets, wherever located, and by whomsoever held, shall enjoy the same immunity from suit and every form of judicial process as is enjoyed by foreign governments, except to the extent that such organizations may expressly waive their ...

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