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Velez v. Betancur

2005 WL 3005764 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

LEASES; DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY—Once diplomatic status is confirmed by the United States Department of State, federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over a tenant who is a consul or vice consul or a member of a diplomatic mission or a family member of one.

A First Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Columbia to the United Nations leased an apartment. The man complained several times to the landlord about the lack of heat in the apartment and the landlord ignored his complaints. Toward the end of the lease term, the landlord sent the man a notice to quit offering the man a new lease with a five percent increase in base rent and an increase in tax and sewage charges. The man showed the new lease to the municipality’s rent control division, who advised the man that the increase in basic rent was legal, but the increase in tax and sewage charges was not. As a result, the man entered into the new tenancy with the landlord and paid the increase in base rent. However, he did not pay the increase in tax and sewage charges under the new lease. A dispute later arose about the man having overnight visitors in the apartment. The landlord filed a complaint against the man seeking to evict him for nonpayment of the full amount of rent. The man moved to dismiss the complaint on the basis of diplomatic immunity. The lower court ruled that it had jurisdiction over the case and granted the landlord’s requested relief. The man appealed the lower court’s decision, asserting that the court erred by concluding that it had jurisdiction over the matter. He asserted that the United States Constitution granted exclusive jurisdiction to federal courts over matters involving foreign representatives.

The Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s decision. It reviewed the provisions of 28 U.S.C.A. 1351, which sets forth the jurisdiction of federal district courts. It found that under this statute, the United States District Court has exclusive jurisdiction over matters involving: 1) consuls or vice consuls of foreign states; and 2) members of mission or members of their families. In this case, the Court found that the man’s employment as a First Secretary to the Permanent Mission of Columbia fell within the second category. As a result, it concluded that the federal District Court had exclusive jurisdiction over the case pursuant to federal statute if the man’s diplomatic status was confirmed by the United States Department of State. Accordingly, it remanded the matter to the lower court to dismiss the complaint, subject to confirmation of the man’s diplomatic status.

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