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Salman v. Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

January 17, 2017

ISLAM E. SALMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
SAUDI ARABIAN CULTURAL MISSION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES C. CACHERIS JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (SACM)'s Motion to Dismiss [Dkt. 18]. Defendant claims that this Court lacks jurisdiction over Plaintiff Islam E. Salman's claims under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1602, et seq. The Court agrees. Accordingly, the Court will grant Defendant's Motion and dismiss this case.

         I. Background

         Defendant is “an organization created by the Saudi government in 1951 to administer programs and policies to meet the educational and cultural needs of Saudis studying in the United States.” Compl. [Dkt. 1] ¶ 9. “[T]he Cultural Mission's primary function is to provide an educational experience to Saudi Arabian citizen-students studying in the United States that mirrors those services provided by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to its citizens enrolled in universities within the Kingdom, including paying tuition, room/board, and health insurance and offering guidance and counseling in course selection.” Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. 22] at 6.

         In July of 2013, Defendant hired Plaintiff, a U.S. citizen, to serve as an academic advisor. Both the offer of employment Plaintiff received and the Personnel Guidelines provided with that letter made numerous references to United States employment laws. Plaintiff's duties included disbursing financial aid to Saudi Arabian students in the United States, evaluating students' continued eligibility for funding, and visiting colleges and universities to “improv[e] business processes and confirm[ ] rules regarding scholarship eligibility.” Pl. Decl. [Dkt. 21-1] ¶ 8. Plaintiff also “assess[ed] students' needs, goals, interests, and prior academic experiences in order to guide students in the design and implementation of a successful academic plan.” Compl. [Dkt. 1] ¶ 12.

         Plaintiff alleges that at some point during his employment, his coworker - Ms. Luma Hawamdah - began sexually harassing him. She allegedly made unwelcome advances, touching Plaintiff inappropriately and requesting sexual favors. When Plaintiff rejected her overtures, Ms. Hawamdah became hostile and verbally abusive. Plaintiff moved to a different office in an effort to avoid her, but the harassment continued.

         On May 15, 2015, Plaintiff sent a letter to his superior, Dr. Mohammed Saleh Amaifi, detailing the alleged harassment in accordance with Section 1.5 of SACM's Personnel Guidelines. This led to a meeting on May 29, 2015, at which Plaintiff presented his grievance to SACM's administration. Rather than addressing the harassment, however, SACM allegedly informed Plaintiff that he would be required to sign a letter stating that the matter had been resolved. SACM further threatened Plaintiff with termination should he pursue the matter further. Under duress, Plaintiff provided SACM with a letter stating that his personal issues with Ms. Hawamdah had been resolved.

         On June 4, 2015, Plaintiff received a letter from a superior chastising him for wasting SACM's time with his complaint and stating that Plaintiff would face consequences if he raised the issue again. Four days later, Plaintiff replied with his own letter reiterating his claims of harassment and asking the reopen the matter. Within hours, security arrived at Plaintiff's office, instructed him to clear out his work space, and proceeded to escort Plaintiff out of the building. The following week, Plaintiff had a meeting with SACM at which he received a final warning to drop the matter. Plaintiff chose instead to retain counsel and pursue his harassment claim. Defendant terminated his employment on June 16, 2015, refusing to provide Plaintiff with materials that would have enabled him to obtain unemployment benefits.

         On November 3, 2015, Plaintiff filed a claim of discrimination with the EEOC. The agency issued Plaintiff a Notice of Right to Sue Letter on May 17, 2016, and Plaintiff filed the instant action on August 12, 2016. On December 2, 2016, Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint, claiming that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction under the FSIA.

         II. Legal Standard

         A motion filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) challenges the Court's subject matter jurisdiction over the pending action. The burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction falls on the plaintiff. McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936); Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982). Where, as here, “a Rule 12(b)(1) motion challenge is raised to the factual basis for subject matter jurisdiction . . . the district court is to regard the pleadings' allegations as mere evidence on the issue, and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.” Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991). If “‘the motion to dismiss is based on a claim of foreign sovereign immunity, which provides protection from suit and not merely a defense to liability, . . . the court must engage in sufficient pretrial factual and legal determinations to satisfy itself of its authority to hear the case before trial.'” Velasco v. Gov't Of Indonesia, 370 F.3d 392, 398 (4th Cir. 2004) (quoting Jungquist v. Sheikh Sultan Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, 115 F.3d 1020, 1027-28 (D.C. Cir.1997)).

         III. Analysis

         “The FSIA provides the sole source of subject matter jurisdiction in suits against a foreign state.” Velasco v. Gov't of Indonesia, 370 F.3d 392, 397 (4th Cir. 2004). It holds that “a foreign state shall be immune from the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States and of the States” subject to certain enumerated exceptions. 28 U.S.C. § 1604; see also Saudi Arabia v. Nelson, 507 U.S. 349, 355 (1993) (“Under the [FSIA], a foreign state is presumptively immune from the jurisdiction of United States courts; unless a specified exception applies, a federal court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over a claim against a foreign state.”).

         Plaintiff concedes that, as a diplomatic and cultural mission of Saudi Arabia recognized by the U.S. Department of State, Defendant qualifies as a “foreign state” for purposes of the FSIA. He argues, however, that two ...


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