Class Actions Against China Grow Despite Foreign Policy Obstacles
WASHINGTON – Law firms and their clients who are joining the growing list of plaintiffs against the Chinese government over the coronavirus outbreak are running up against a foreign policy that could rule out any successful lawsuits.
About a half-dozen class action lawsuits have been filed in federal courts against China.
However, they appear to be overlooking legal recourse through international tribunals, according to a new public policy foundation’s report.
The lawsuits argue that China’s negligent or reckless failure to adequately warn other countries about dangers of the epidemic when it was first noticed last December in the city of Wuhan has endangered millions of people worldwide.
In the United States, the death toll from coronavirus is near 50,000.
Lawsuits against foreign countries must overcome tough standards of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which bans private legal action unless it falls under rare exceptions, according to legal experts.
One of the experts is former New Jersey Superior Court Judge Andrew Napolitano, who also acts as a legal policy analyst for Fox News.
“At the present time, they don’t have a case because of the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act [of 1976], which basically says American courts do not have jurisdiction over the behavior of foreign governments and that, of course, would bar nearly any lawsuit against the government of China,” Napolitano said.
Generally, private lawsuits are allowed if a plaintiff’s claim is based on commercial activity performed in the United States by the foreign government. Typical examples are state-sponsored foreign airlines and financial institutions.
Other exceptions could include industrial espionage and thefts of private property during “genocidal takings” by foreign militaries or agents.
A lawsuit filed by the state of Missouri this week tries to cite the commercial activity exception but gives scant evidence the epidemic resulted from China’s business relations in the United States.
The Missouri lawsuit seeks unspecified compensation “for the enormous loss of life, human suffering and economic turmoil experienced by all Missourians from the COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted the entire world.”
It also accuses China of misleading other countries about how easily the virus can spread, silencing medical personnel who tried to warn others and hoarding medical supplies.
People’s Republic of China officials deny wrongdoing.
“This so-called lawsuit is very absurd and has no factual and legal basis at all,” China Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily briefing this week.
Since the outbreak began, China has proceeded in an “open, transparent, and responsible manner” and the U.S. government should “dismiss such vexatious litigation,” he said.
The Trump administration has given no indication it supports the Missouri lawsuit or the private class actions.
If a U.S. class action lawsuit succeeds, it could be worth $1.2 trillion in damages, according to the British conservative public policy foundation the Henry Jackson Society.
A report from the foundation accuses China of intentionally withholding information from the World Health Organization in a way that represents a violation of the International Health Regulations.
The report also said plaintiffs could bypass domestic laws and courts by petitioning international tribunals. They include the World Health Organization, the International Court of Justice, Permanent Court of Arbitration and courts in Hong Kong.
In The News
NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge in New York ruled Saturday that Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf assumed his position unlawfully, a determination that invalidated Wolf's suspension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields young people from deportation. “DHS... Read More
DETROIT — President Donald Trump's campaign filed a second lawsuit in Michigan on Tuesday seeking to stop the state's canvassing and certification of ballots, but the state's chief elections official and attorney general defended the election results. The Trump campaign filed the case in federal court, where the campaign is alleging... Read More
President Donald Trump's challenge to the 2020 election results runs through six battleground states, five of which he won in 2016. This time around, Democrat Joe Biden has five-digit vote leads in all six states with some counting continuing, including three where he leads by more than 35,000 votes in... Read More
WASHINGTON -- Republican Attorneys General from 10 states have filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in the latest legal action in the case to contend the counting of certain mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania. In the brief, the AGs argue the United States Supreme Court... Read More
WASHINGTON — Facing a fast-shrinking path to a second term, President Donald Trump baselessly accused his opponents of fraud Wednesday as he launched an aggressive legal effort to reverse or stop vote counts in four battleground states that could clinch the race for Joe Biden. Filing four lawsuits and joining... Read More
WASHINGTON — As President Donald Trump promised to take the fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, Republicans activated a massive network of attorneys in battleground states crucial to the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, hoping to thwart the counting of thousands of early and absentee ballots. Republican National Committee and Trump campaign... Read More