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Ben-Haim v. Edri

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

February 5, 2018

SHARON BEN-HAIM, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
DANIEL EDRI, DAVID BAR SHILTON, EYAL YOSEF, ZION BOARON, ELIEZER IGRA, ZION ELGRABLI, and SAMUEL GALIMAL, Defendants-Respondents.

          Argued December 12, 2017

         On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Docket No. L-3502-15.

          Saul Roffe argued the cause for appellant (Saul Roffe, attorney; Sharon Ben-Haim, on the pro se briefs).

          Robert Reeves Anderson (Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, LLP) of the New York bar, admitted pro hac vice, argued the cause for respondents (Hartmann Doherty Rosa Berman & Bulbulia, LLC, and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, LLP, attorneys; Mark A. Berman and Kevin Sullivan, on the brief).

          Lewis S. Yelin (United States Department of Justice) of the New York bar, admitted pro hac vice, argued the cause for amicus curiae United States of America (Paul J. Fishman, United States Attorney, and J. Andrew Ruymann, Assistant United States Attorney, attorneys; Benjamin C. Mizer, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Lewis S. Yelin, and Sharon Swingle (United States Department of Justice) of the District of Columbia bar, admitted pro hac vice, on the brief).

          Before Judges Reisner, Gilson, and Mayer.

          OPINION

          GILSON, J.A.D.

         The question presented is whether New Jersey courts have jurisdiction to hear civil claims against foreign officials when the United States, through the State Department, has issued a suggestion of immunity (SOI) determining that those officials are entitled to immunity. We hold that New Jersey courts are bound by an SOI when, as here, the State Department's determination of conduct-based immunity is premised on the officials acting within the scope of their duties for a foreign sovereign nation. Therefore, we affirm the December 9, 2016 order dismissing plaintiff's civil complaint against six Israeli rabbinical judges and an official of the Rabbinical Religious Courts Administration of Israel (Rabbinical Courts of Israel).

         I.

         This appeal arises out of a protracted divorce and custody dispute between plaintiff, Sharon Ben-Haim, and his wife, Oshrat. The divorce and custody disputes were litigated in actions filed initially in Israel and later in New Jersey. The suit giving rise to this appeal is a separate action filed by plaintiff in New Jersey. In that action, plaintiff sought to assert civil causes of action against the Rabbinical Courts of Israel, six Israeli rabbinical judges, and an official of the Rabbinical Courts of Israel.

         Plaintiff and Oshrat are Israeli citizens and were married in Israel in 2 008. Before their marriage, they lived in New Jersey and after their wedding they returned to continue living in New Jersey. They have one child, a daughter, who was born in 2 009, in New Jersey.

         In March 2010, the family traveled together to Israel. Shortly after arriving in Israel, Oshrat filed for divorce in an Israeli rabbinical court. Rabbinical courts are part of Israel's legal system and have jurisdiction over divorces between Jewish citizens of Israel. Israel also has secular family courts, and the family and rabbinical courts have parallel jurisdiction over issues concerning support, child custody, and division of property.

         When Oshrat initiated the divorce action in the rabbinical court, she also obtained a ne exeat order, which prohibited plaintiff from leaving Israel until the divorce was finalized. Thereafter, a rabbinical court lifted that order and allowed plaintiff, by himself, to return to New Jersey. Oshrat and the daughter remained in Israel.

         In August 2010, plaintiff filed an action in the Israeli family court, seeking the return of his daughter to New Jersey under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (Hague Convention). The Israeli family court ruled in ...


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