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Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations v. City of New York

United States Supreme Court
551 U.S. 193 (2007)


Facts

The Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations (India Mission) (defendant) occupied six floors in an office building in the City of New York (plaintiff). Some of the office space was used for conducting official business of the India Mission, but other space was used for housing low-level staff members and their families, free of charge. The Permanent Mission of Mongolia to the United Nations (Mongolia Mission) (defendant) engaged in the same activity in New York. Under New York law, real property owned by a foreign government is exempt from taxation if it is “used exclusively” for diplomatic offices or for the quarters of a diplomat “with the rank of ambassador or minister plenipotentiary” to the United Nations. However, “if a portion only of any lot or building” is used exclusively for those purposes, then under New York law, only that portion would be exempt from taxes and “the remainder shall be subject to taxation.” For multiple years, New York levied taxes against the India Mission and Mongolia Mission for using parts of its office space for housing low-level staff members. However, the Missions refused to pay these taxes. Under New York law, these unpaid taxes eventually converted into tax liens held by New York against both Missions. On April 2, 2003, New York filed complaints in state court seeking declaratory judgments to establish the validity of the tax liens. The Missions removed their cases to federal district court. There, the Missions argued they were immune from the suits based on the general rule of sovereign immunity in the Foreign State Immunities Act (FSIA). The district court disagreed, holding that the FSIA’s “immovable property exception” applies to negate sovereign immunity for the Missions. The court of appeals affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

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Holding and Reasoning (Thomas, J.)

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Dissent (Stevens, J.)

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