Akhmetshin v. Browder

Decision Date29 December 2020
Docket NumberNo. 19-7129,19-7129
Citation983 F.3d 542
Parties Rinat AKHMETSHIN, Appellant v. William BROWDER, Appellee
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit

Michael Tremonte argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs was Alexandra Elenowitz-Hess.

Michael J. Gottlieb, Washington, argued the cause and filed the brief for appellee. With him on the brief was Stephanie L. Miner, Syracuse, NY.

Before: Tatel and Katsas, Circuit Judges, and Edwards, Senior Circuit Judge.

Dissenting opinion filed by Circuit Judge Tatel.

Edwards, Senior Circuit Judge:

On July 12, 2018, Appellant Rinat Akhmetshin, a resident of the District of Columbia ("District") and a dual citizen of the United States and the Russian Federation, filed a defamation action in the District Court against Appellee William Browder, a nonresident alien and citizen of the United Kingdom. See J.A. 7-20. The District Court had subject-matter jurisdiction on diversity-of-citizenship grounds. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(2).

Akhmetshin's complaint cites several incidents to support his claim of defamation: (1) two tweets posted by Browder in which he identified Akhmetshin as a "Russian GRU officer" and a "Russian intelligence asset"; (2) a statement published in Business Insider in which Browder described Akhmetshin as "a member of Putin's secret police"; and (3) a television interview during which Browder described Akhmetshin as, "by all accounts, some kind of shady former Soviet spy, current spy operator in Washington." Browder moved to dismiss the action on several grounds, including under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction. See J.A. 59. Because Browder made his allegedly defamatory statements outside of the District of Columbia, Akhmetshin sought to establish personal jurisdiction over Browder under section 13-423(a)(4) of the District's long-arm jurisdiction statute. D.C. CODE § 13-423(a)(4) (2001).

Section 13-423(a)(4) authorizes the "exercise [of] personal jurisdiction over a person" who has "caus[ed] tortious injury in the District of Columbia by an act or omission outside the District of Columbia." Any such party over whom personal jurisdiction is sought must have satisfied one of three "plus factors" within the District . See Crane v. Carr , 814 F.2d 758, 763 (D.C. Cir. 1987). These factors are "[1] regularly do[ing] or solicit[ing] business, [2] engag[ing] in any other persistent course of conduct, or [3] deriv[ing] substantial revenue from goods used or consumed, or services rendered." D.C. CODE § 13-423(a)(4). However, "entr[ies] into the District ... by nonresidents for the purpose of contacting federal governmental agencies [or instrumentalities]" do not factor into the jurisdictional calculus. Env't Rsch. Int'l, Inc. v. Lockwood Greene Eng'rs, Inc. , 355 A.2d 808, 813 (D.C. 1976) (en banc) (explaining the "government contacts exception").

The record in the case indicates that, since 2009, Browder has traveled to the District of Columbia on a number of occasions. While on these trips, he has, among other things, met with members of Congress and provided testimony before governmental bodies, appeared on television and podcasts, given interviews to publications, participated in panel discussions at nongovernmental organizations ("NGOs") and think tanks, and attended personal events such as social dinners and a funeral. See , e.g. , J.A. 197-98, 202, 203, 204, 206, 214, 235-36, 248, 249, 251, 333, 336. It is undisputed that Browder's visits to the District often have been related to his advocacy for measures holding human rights abusers in Russia accountable for their misdeeds. See J.A. 39-40, 149. Prior to 2012, Browder lobbied Congress for passage of the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 (the "Magnitsky Act"). See Pub. L. No. 112-208, 126 Stat. 1496 (2012). After the passage of the Magnitsky Act in 2012, Browder's trips to the District continued, both to promote the Act and to participate in a variety of professional and social events. See , e.g. , J.A. 239-40.

The District Court granted Browder's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Akhmetshin v. Browder , 407 F. Supp. 3d 11, 14 (D.D.C. 2019). The court agreed with Browder that virtually all of his contacts with the District were subject to the government contacts exception; the court additionally found that Browder's remaining contacts with the District, based on the then-existing record, were not sufficient for jurisdiction under the District's long-arm statute. Id. at 24-25. The District Court also denied jurisdictional discovery, as it believed that any additional contacts with the District that Akhmetshin might uncover would likely be excluded under the government contacts exception. Id. at 28.

Based on the current record, we cannot determine whether Browder's non-government contacts with the District satisfy any of the three "plus factors" required under the long-arm statute. The District Court relied on an overly broad construction of the government contacts exception in granting judgment for Browder and denying jurisdictional discovery. Therefore, we have no sound basis upon which to credit the District Court's judgment. Accordingly, we are constrained to vacate the judgment under review and remand the case for jurisdictional discovery.

A. Browder's Background and Contacts with the District of Columbia

Browder is a financier who lives and works in the United Kingdom. See J.A. 34. In 1996, he founded Hermitage Capital Management ("Hermitage"), a hedge fund specializing in former Soviet markets. See J.A. 8, 10, 217. In 2008, Sergei Magnitsky, one of Hermitage's lawyers, allegedly discovered that Russian government officials and members of organized crime had used Hermitage portfolio companies to perpetrate a $230 million tax fraud scheme. See J.A. 39-40, 108. Magnitsky was then arrested by Russian authorities and, in November 2009, died in a Russian prison. See J.A. 39-40, 137.

After being notified of Magnitsky's death, Browder sought accountability for those he believed responsible. See, e.g. , J.A. 196-98. In the United States, his efforts took the form of lobbying and advocating for the Magnitsky Act, which authorizes the President of the United States to impose sanctions against individuals who were responsible for Magnitsky's death, who have benefitted financially from his death, or who were involved in the underlying tax fraud scheme. See Magnitsky Act §§ 404, 406. In June 2009, Browder testified before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the "Helsinki Commission") – an independent commission of the federal government – regarding the circumstances of Magnitsky's detention. See J.A. 16. From 2010 through 2012, Browder met with members of Congress and their staffs, also testifying before various Congressional bodies. See J.A. 10, 16, 197-98. Those efforts culminated in the 2012 enactment of the Magnitsky Act. See J.A. 10.

Since then, according to Akhmetshin, Browder has visited the District a number of times. Those trips have included testimony before a Congressional committee on one occasion in 2015, as well as testimony before the Helsinki Commission and a separate Congressional committees on two separate trips in 2017. See J.A. 16-17. The trips have also included attendance at an April 2013 reception, see J.A. 184, 325-26, sitting for an interview published in BBC News magazine in December 2013, see J.A. 181, 211-33, attendance at a book release event in January 2014, see J.A. 184, 327-34, participation in an April 2015 panel discussion at the National Endowment for Democracy, see J.A. 181, 234-37, sitting for an interview published in June 2016 in The American Interest , see J.A. 181-82, 238-47, sitting for three interviews on two separate dates in July 2017 with cable news outlets and a podcast, see J.A. 182, 248-51, sitting for interviews on five separate dates in April, July, August, and November 2018 with television and print news outlets, see J.A. 182-83, 252-54, 256-62, and attendance at a funeral in the District in September 2018, see J.A. 184, 335-36. Browder also hired a law firm in the District in 2016 in connection with efforts to defend himself and the Magnitsky Act from detractors. See J.A. 264-71.

In 2015, Browder authored a book, Red Notice , describing his personal background, the circumstances surrounding Magnitsky's death, the passage of the Magnitsky Act, and subsequent developments. See J.A. 17, 413-15. Akhmetshin's defamation complaint refers to Red Notice as a "best-seller." Compl. ¶ 68, Joint Appendix ("J.A.") 18. Hermitage entities own and license the copyright to Red Notice , and they engaged Simon & Schuster, Inc. ("Simon & Schuster") to publish the book, which is sold in the District. See J.A. 372-73. According to one of Hermitage's directors, Browder "does not personally own any property rights in the book" and "has personally earned no revenues as a result of the sales of Red Notice ." Decl. of Ivan Cherkasov ¶¶ 3, 6, J.A. 372-73. Nonetheless, in 2015, Browder made at least three appearances in the District at events promoting Red Notice . See J.A. 153, 203, 204.

B. The Instant Case

Over the last five years, Browder and Akhmetshin have found themselves increasingly at odds. See J.A. 11-14. These tensions generally relate to Akhmetshin's public advocacy contradicting Browder's version of the events that resulted in Magnitsky's death, including accusations that Browder and Magnitsky – not Russian government officials – perpetrated the underlying tax fraud. See J.A. 12-13. Akhmetshin's efforts on this front have included lobbying for the removal of Magnitsky's name from the Magnitsky Act. See J.A. 12.

On July 14, 2017, it was widely reported that Akhmetshin had attended a June 9, 2016 meeting with, among others, Donald Trump, Jr. in New York City, at which the Magnitsky Act...

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4 cases
  • Akhmetshin v. Browder, 19-7129
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • April 13, 2021
    ...or instrumentalities of the federal government - should have been included in the jurisdictional calculus. Akhmetshin v. Browder, 983 F.3d 542, 553-55 (D.C. Cir. 2020). In reaching that result, we declined to pass upon Akhmetshin's contention that the government contacts exception has limit......
  • Akhmetshin v. Browder
    • United States
    • D.C. Court of Appeals
    • May 26, 2022
    ...Interview , and a statement made in a television interview—that link Mr. Akhmetshin to Russian intelligence. See Akhmetshin v. Browder , 983 F.3d 542, 548 (D.C. Cir. 2020). The facts underlying Mr. Akhmetshin's claim have been recounted in more detail by the U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.......
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    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • December 29, 2020
  • Akhmetshin v. Browder
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • December 19, 2022

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