Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act

What's in the Many Coronavirus-Related Lawsuits Against China?

By Sean Mirski, Shira Anderson
Wednesday, June 24, 2020, 12:48 PM

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a great deal of debate about the Chinese government’s responsibility for the global crisis and to what extent the Chinese Communist Party can—and should—be held accountable. In an effort to hold China responsible, some have turned to one of the oldest and most venerated of American traditions: litigation.

Several individuals, small businesses and states have filed a total of at least 14 different suits against China (and affiliated entities and officials) based on its perceived culpability in causing the pandemic. Legal experts have generally scoffed at these suits, describing them as politically motivated, factually tendentious and legally dubious. But the Chinese government has protested strongly, and some legislators in Congress have argued that American courts should be open to these kinds of suits. Robert O’Brien, President Trump’s national security adviser, recently referenced these lawsuits in response to a question about how to hold China accountable. “We’ll see how it all plays out,” he observed. “The Chinese have a lot of assets around the world …. We’ll see what happens.”

The most serious challenge that these suits face is China’s presumptive sovereign immunity. Sovereign states, along with their agencies and instrumentalities, are as a general matter immune from suit in the United States under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA). But the plaintiffs in these suits all claim—with varying degrees of sophistication—that the FSIA is no barrier to their particular claims.

Generally, the plaintiffs allege that their cases fall within one of the exceptions to immunity provided in the FSIA, most commonly the exceptions for a sovereign state’s “commercial activity” or noncommercial “tortious act or omission.” Most plaintiffs also assert claims against the Chinese Communist Party, which they argue falls outside the scope of the FSIA’s protections. Some plaintiffs invoke the exception to immunity for international terrorism created by the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). Notably, none of the plaintiffs mentions common-law sovereign immunity, which may provide an independent source of immunity to foreign officials (who are not covered by the FSIA).

As others have noted, these suits face very steep immunity barriers regardless of how they are pleaded. Even if courts do permit some cases to proceed, the Chinese defendants can still potentially erect several formidable, nonjurisdictional roadblocks to liability, such as the forum non conveniens doctrine, which allows defendants to argue that American courts are not the proper forum for suits alleging acts that largely occurred elsewhere. And that is before the litigants grapple with the thorny issues of whether and how plaintiffs could execute on any judgments they do manage to win.

Given the tough road ahead, the best bet for these plaintiffs may very well be the prospect of legislation that specifically abrogates China’s sovereign immunity against suits related to the novel coronavirus or the respiratory disease it causes, COVID-19. Congress is considering several such bills, and the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on June 23 on the subject. But it remains unclear whether these efforts will gain any traction.

Below, we categorize the suits into four groups, excluding pro se suits: national class actions, state-specific class actions, suits brought by states, and non-class-action suits.

National Class Actions

Alters v. People’s Republic of China, No. 1:20-cv-21108 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 12, 2020)

Summary: Alters was the first coronavirus-related suit filed against China, and the original complaint was relatively threadbare—it did not even list the Chinese Communist Party as a defendant, focusing instead on the People’s Republic as a whole as well as several of its agencies and political subdivisions. Once the case made national headlines, however, the plaintiffs’ counsel received a flood of outreach from tens of thousands of individuals and businesses that wanted to join the case. On May 4, the plaintiffs overhauled their original complaint substantially, adding new plaintiffs, defendants (including the Chinese Communist Party), theories, detailed allegations, classes and claims. Currently, the amended complaint accuses the defendants of causing the pandemic through “malfeasance, misfeasance, and/or nonfeasance.”

Claims: Plaintiffs claim that the defendants (1) were negligent, (2) negligently inflicted emotional distress, (3) intentionally inflicted emotional distress, (4) conducted an ultrahazardous activity, (5) committed toxic battery/civil assault, (6) caused wrongful death and (7) were grossly negligent. Originally, the plaintiffs also claimed that the defendants had created a public nuisance, but that seems to have been cut from the amended complaint.

FSIA Exemptions: Originally, the plaintiffs invoked only the commercial activity and noncommercial tort exceptions; in their amended complaint, they further invoke the “international terrorism” exception. Plaintiffs also claim that the Chinese Communist Party is not entitled to sovereign immunity under the FSIA.

Class Action: The plaintiffs purport to represent a whopping 13 national classes and their accompanying Florida subclasses: (1) a noncommercial tort class made up of “[a]ll persons and legal entities in the United States who have suffered personal injury, including emotional distress, and/or property damage, and other loss related to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus”; (2) a commercial class made up of “[a]ll persons and legal entities … who have suffered economic losses due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus”; (3) a diagnosed class of “[a]ll individuals … who have contracted COVID-19 and have suffered personal injuries and losses as a result”; (4) a direct exposure class of “[a]ll natural persons … who have been directly exposed to COVID-19 because of family or household members who contracted the virus, and/or because of their work environment, and have suffered harm, injuries and losses as a result”; (5) a wrongful death/survivors class of “[a]ll natural persons … whose family member(s) have died leaving a claim for wrongful death/survivorship, due to COVID-19”; (6) an emotional distress class of “[a]ll natural persons … who have suffered severe emotional distress and related harms, injuries, losses, as a result of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic”; (7) a personal economic loss class of “[a]ll natural persons … who have suffered personal economic loss from the financial impact and/or job losses associated with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy; (8) a hotel/lodging industry class of “[a]ll persons and legal entities … who own hotels, motels, and other travel accommodations facilities, who have suffered economic losses due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and travel industry”; (9) a general tourism industry class of “[a]ll persons and legal entities … who own businesses that rely on travel and tourism—other than hotels, motels, and other travel accommodations facilities—and who have suffered economic losses due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and travel industry”; (10) a service business class of “[a]ll persons and legal entities … who own business that primarily provide individual services and retail to the general public … who have suffered economic losses due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and the shutdown of such businesses”; (11) a restaurant and bar business class of “[a]ll persons and legal entities … who own restaurant, bar, fast food, and other dine-in/take-out businesses that have suffered economic losses due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and the shutdown/limitation of such businesses”; (12) a general business class of “[a]ll persons and legal entities … who own general businesses, including retail businesses—that are unrelated to tavel[sic]/tourism, services businesses, and restaurant/bar/fast-food—and that have suffered economic losses due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and the shutdown/limitation of such businesses”; and (13) a farming, livestock, and agriculture class of “[a]ll persons and legal entities … who own farming, livestock, and agriculture related businesses that have suffered economic losses due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and the shutdown/limitation of such businesses,” with no associated Florida subclass.

Relief Sought: The plaintiffs seek an indeterminate amount of damages.

Buzz Photo v. People’s Republic of China, No. 3:20-cv-656 (N.D. Tex. Mar. 17, 2020)

Summary: Frequent litigator Larry Klayman helms this lawsuit on behalf of his organization Freedom Watch and a photography company named Buzz Photos. Klayman and the other plaintiffs don’t pull any punches: Starting in the title of their complaint, they accuse China and the Chinese military, among others, of permitting the coronavirus’s “release from an illegal and internationally outlawed bioweapons facility,” namely, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a biosafety level 4 laboratory located near the center of the outbreak. The plaintiffs go on to allege that the coronavirus was “engineered in the Chinese military’s laboratory or laboratories” and constitutes a “terrorist-related weapon[] of mass destruction of population centers.”

Claims: The plaintiffs claim that defendants (1) aided and abetted acts of international terrorism, (2) provided material support to terrorists, (3) conspired to cause injury to and the death of U.S. citizens, (4) were negligent, (5) caused wrongful deaths; and (6) committed assault and battery.

FSIA Exemptions: The plaintiffs invoke JASTA’s international terrorism exception.

Class Action: The plaintiffs purport to represent an (undefined) national class and two subclasses: (1) a subclass of “those who have been personally and physically infected by the COVID-19 virus as an illegal biological weapon, including have already died [sic], or are now suffering damages of sickness, medical costs, disruption of regular activities and life, fear, emotional distress, and direct economic losses”; and (2) a subclass of “those who have been injured financially by the severe disruption to the U.S. economy made necessary by efforts to contain and slow the spread of the pandemic.”

Relief Sought: The plaintiffs seek damages “in excess of $20 trillion.”

Bella Vista LLC v. People’s Republic of China, No. 2:20-cv-574 (D. Nev. Mar. 23, 2020)

Summary: Bella Vista was the third coronavirus-related class-action lawsuit brought against China. It’s distinct from its peers because it focuses on representing only “small businesses,” and not any natural persons. Otherwise, the complaint tracks the general narrative of most other coronavirus-related class actions against China, especially since the plaintiffs amended it on June 5. The plaintiffs are suing the usual suspects—China, some of its instrumentalities and agencies, and, after amendment, the Chinese Communist Party—along with more unusual parties like the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, where some people suspect the disease first made the zoonotic jump from animal to human host. The plaintiffs stress that instead of complying with the International Health Regulations to properly report the virus’s inception and spread, the defendants “engaged in a campaign of falsehoods, misinformation, cover-up and destruction of evidence” that led to “99%” of the infections caused by the pandemic. The plaintiffs also allege that the Wuhan Institute of Virology knew that a drug, remdesivir, “was effective in combating COVID-19 when it allowed the virus to escape.” Plaintiffs allege that the defendants “attempted to patent Remdesivir in hopes of receiving a considerable commercial and monetary gain from the United States … and across the world.”

Claims: The plaintiffs claim that defendants (1) were grossly negligent, (2) conducted an ultrahazardous activity, (3) created a public nuisance and (4) were negligent per se in violating the International Health Regulations.

FSIA Exemptions: As in Alters, the plaintiffs invoke the commercial activity, noncommercial tort and international terrorism exceptions; they also claim that the Chinese Communist Party is not protected by the FSIA.

Class Action: Yes. The plaintiffs purport to represent two national classes and their accompanying Nevada subclasses: (1) a national noncommercial tort class of “[a]ll small businesses in the United States … which have sustained, among other things, financial/monetary damages and/or losses related to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus”; and (2) a national commercial class of “[a]ll small businesses … in the United States … that have sustained, among other things, financial/monetary damages and/or losses related to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.”

Relief Sought: The plaintiffs request a wide variety of damages, including “exemplary or punitive damages related to “[d]efendants’ fraudulent, extreme, outrageous, malicious, oppressive conduct that was performed in conscious disregard of the rights and health of American businesses.” Plaintiffs indicate that these damages “exceed Trillions of dollars, and … will only increase in the future.”

Bourque CPA’s and Advisors v. People’s Republic of China, No. 8:20-cv-597 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 25, 2020)

Summary: One of the first copycat suits, the complaint in this case was filed only two days after the first complaint in Bella Vista was filed and is largely identical to it. Like the plaintiffs in Bella Vista, plaintiffs in this case purport to represent a class of small business owners, and they level the standard charge that the defendants “engaged in a cover-up of the Coronavirus pandemic … thereby causing and/or contributing to the subsequent spread of the coronavirus all over the world.” Notable differences between this complaint and the original Bella Vista complaint include the decision to include the Wuhan Institute of Virology as a defendant and to add two claims relating to the infliction of emotional distress. The complaint in this case does not list the Chinese Communist Party as a defendant; however, it has not been amended, so that may still change.

Claims: The plaintiffs claim that defendants (1) were negligent, (2) conducted an ultrahazardous activity, (3) negligently inflicted emotional distress, (4) intentionally inflicted emotional distress and (5) created a public nuisance.

FSIA Exemptions: The plaintiffs invoke the commercial activity and noncommercial tort exceptions.

Class Action: The plaintiffs purport to represent two national and two California classes (though they do not define any national classes): (1) a noncommercial tort class of “[a]ll ‘small businesses’ in the State of California, which have sustained, among other things, financial/monetary damages and/or losses related to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus”; and (2) a commercial class of “[a]ll ‘small businesses’ in the State of California, which have sustained, among other things, financial/monetary damages and/or losses related to the outbreak of the COVID-19.”

Relief Sought: As in Bella Vista, the plaintiffs request a wide variety of damages. Somewhat more modestly, the plaintiffs indicate that these damages “exceed hundreds of billions of dollars” (rather than “trillions”) but note that the damages “will only increase in the future” as the pandemic continues.

Aharon v. Chinese Communist Party, No. 9:20-cv-80604 (S.D. Fla. Apr. 8, 2020)

Summary: Aharon zeroes in on China’s alleged stashing of personal protective equipment (PPE), arguing that the Chinese government’s “hoarding and stockpiling,” as well as its export restrictions, have injured the medical professionals “[o]n the front line of our nation’s response to the effects of this deadly pandemic.” Aharon was the first coronavirus-related case filed against China to list the Chinese Communist Party as a defendant.

Claims: The plaintiffs claim that defendants (1) were negligent, (2) intentionally committed toxic battery and civil assault, (3) negligently inflicted emotional distress, and (4) intentionally inflicted emotional distress.

FSIA Exemptions: The plaintiffs invoke the commercial activity and noncommercial tort exceptions.

Class Action: The plaintiffs purport to represent a national class of “[a]ll medical providers, as defined herein, in the United States who have been unable to procure proper or adequate PPE, treated COVID-19 infected patients, and suffered injury, damage, and loss as a result,” along with an associated Florida subclass.

Relief Sought: The plaintiffs seek an indeterminate amount of damages.

Cardiff Prestige Property, Inc. v. People’s Republic of China, No. 8:20-cv-683 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 8, 2020)

Summary: Like Bourque CPA’s and Advisors, this case is a California-focused suit that imitates the original “small business” class action brought in Bella Vista. Even more than Bourque CPA’s and Advisors, however, the complaint in this case is all but identical to the original, nonamended Bella Vista complaint; the only significant change is that it seeks more specific damages (see below). For now, Cardiff Prestige Property does not list the Chinese Communist Party as a defendant.

Claims: The plaintiffs claim that defendants (1) were negligent, (2) conducted an ultrahazardous activity and (3) created a public nuisance.

FSIA Exemptions: The plaintiffs invoke the commercial activity and noncommercial tort exceptions.

Class Action: The plaintiffs purport to represent two national classes and their accompanying California subclasses: (1) a national noncommercial tort class of “[a]ll small businesses in the United States … which have sustained, among other things, financial/monetary damages and/or losses related to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus”; and (2) a national commercial class of “[a]ll small businesses in the United States … which sustained, among other things, financial/monetary damages and/or losses related to the outbreak of the COVID-19.”

Relief Sought: As in Bella Vista, the plaintiffs request a wide variety of damages. Here, however, they are not shy about putting numbers to the page—they demand “no less than $8,000,000,000,000.00.”

Benitez-White v. People’s Republic of China, No. 4:20-cv-1562 (S.D. Tex. May 3, 2020)

Summary: Benitez-White is brought by a Texas worker who was allegedly laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic. She names as defendants only the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party, asserting that “[t]hrough negligence, carelessness, and purposeful subterfuge, Defendants unleased [sic] an epidemic across the United States.” Otherwise, the complaint hews closely to its predecessors. It alleges that in late 2019, due to improper safety protocols, a worker at the Wuhan biolab became “patient zero” and released the novel coronavirus into the local population. It then alleges a timeline of the virus’s transmission through the community and the defendants’ steps to obfuscate the disease’s origin and spread. As the complaint alleges, “[r]ather than admit the outbreak occurred and take immediate steps to deal with the contagion, the Defendants worked together to quash, hide, and discount the story about the outbreak.” Somewhat unusually, the complaint attempts to support its case by referencing proposed immunity-stripping legislation that “would allow Americans to seek compensation from DEFENDANTS due to DEFENDANTS’ negligence and actions in allowing the COVID19 virus to spread into the general population and attempting to coverup [sic] the outbreak for political reasons.”

Claims: The plaintiff claims the defendants (1) caused wrongful deaths, (2) violated Texas’s personal injury statute by acting negligently, (3) were grossly negligent, (4) are vicariously liable for their employees’ actions under the doctrine of respondeat superior, (5) committed intentional torts leading to economic losses, and (6) were unjustly enriched from the sale of PPE to class members.

FSIA Exemptions: The plaintiff invokes the international terrorism exception of JASTA; she further alleges that the Chinese Communist Party “does not have sovereign immunity as it is a political party, and not a sovereign country.”

Class Action: Yes. The plaintiff purports to represent “all U.S. residents and businesses that were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic through and including the date of the class notice.” The complaint states that “classmembers will be organized in groups, according to their respective damage models, in the forthcoming class definition to be provided at Class certification.”

Relief Sought: The plaintiff requests a wide variety of damages, including “equitable monetary relief, including restitution and disgorgement of all ill-gotten gains, and the imposition of a constructive trust upon, or otherwise restricting Defendant’s [sic] ill-gotten gains, to ensure that Plaintiffs and proposed class members have an effective remedy.”

Edwards v. People’s Republic of China, No. 2:20-cv-1393 (E.D. La. May 8, 2020)

Summary: Brought by Sheriff Daniel Edwards of Louisiana on behalf of all sheriffs in the United States, this case is most interesting for its purported class and the class’s related damages. Edwards is the brother of Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, and his suit targets the usual, wide array of suspects, including the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party as well as the governments of Hubei province (where the city of Wuhan is located) and Wuhan itself, several other state agencies, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Edwards alleges that the scientific organization defendants were negligent in releasing the virus and that the government defendants were negligent for failing to respond to the early stages of the outbreak and are further liable for fraudulently misrepresenting the disease’s effects and dangers. The complaint also alleges that the government defendants are liable for hoarding PPE. Unlike other plaintiffs that allege similar facts and claims, however, Edwards seeks damages specifically related to economic losses suffered by sheriffs, such as the increased cost of operating jails during the pandemic.

Claims: The plaintiff claims that the defendants were (1) were negligent and (2) engaged in fraud.

FSIA Exemptions: The plaintiff invokes the commercial activity exception.

Class Action: The plaintiff purports to represent “[a]ll Sheriffs in the United States of America, including the State of Louisiana, that have sustained, among other things, financial/monetary damages and/or losses and/or extra expenses related to the outbreak of COVID-19.”

Relief Sought: The plaintiff seeks compensatory and other damages for lost revenue “associated with service of citations and other documents, lack of foreclosures and sales, lack of court fees, and decreased tax revenue,” as well as increased costs associated with jailing (and releasing) prisoners safely and increased overtime costs for sheriff employees. Specifically, “Plaintiff estimates damages to total $700,000 to date.”

State-Specific Class Actions

Patella v. People’s Republic of China, No. 1:20-cv-433 (M.D. N.C. May 15, 2020)

Summary: Borrowing liberally from an earlier complaint filed by the State of Missouri (described below), this suit is comprehensive in both parties and counts. The plaintiffs are three sole proprietors who live in Forsyth County, North Carolina. They allege that the defendants both (1) attempted to cover up, rather than respond to, the first instances of the disease (including by “misleading the WHO [World Health Organization]” in violation of the International Health Regulations), causing its dramatic spread; and (2) have hoarded PPE in an effort to commercially benefit from the resulting pandemic.

Claims: The plaintiffs claim that the defendants (1) created a public nuisance, (2) engaged in unreasonably dangerous activities, (3) were negligent in allowing transmission of COVID-19, (4) were negligent in hoarding PPE, (5) negligently inflicted emotional distress, (6) intentionally inflicted emotional distress and (7) intentionally committed toxic battery/civil assault. Plaintiffs also list “punitive damages” as their eighth claim for relief.

FSIA Exemptions: The plaintiffs invoke the commercial activity and noncommercial tort exceptions; they also claim that the Chinese Communist Party is not protected by the FSIA.

Class Action: The plaintiffs purport to represent a North Carolina “Non-Commercial Tort Class,” defined as “[a]ll persons and legal entities in the State of North Carolina who have suffered injury, damage, and loss related to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.”

Relief Sought: The plaintiffs request a wide variety of damages, along with injunctive relief and an order that the defendants abate the nuisance and cease engaging in the abnormally dangerous activities.

Azalea Woods of Ouachita v. People’s Republic of China, No. 3:20-cv-457 (W.D. La. Apr. 13, 2020)

Summary: Azalea Woods of Ouachita purports to represent a class of all Louisiana businesses. It names a fairly standard mix of defendants: the People’s Republic of China, the National Health Commission, the Ministry of Emergency Management, the Ministry of Community Affairs, the government of Hubei province, and “the People’s and Government of the City of Wuhan.” Notably, the Chinese Communist Party is not named. The plaintiffs claim that the defendants engaged in a cover-up that led to the global coronavirus pandemic. Specifically, they allege a cascading series of negligence: failure to timely assess the damage; failure to timely contain the damage, failure to timely notify and warn of the damage, failure to timely notify the “World Health Authority[,]” and failure to timely suspend travel nationally and internationally.

Claims: The plaintiffs bring just one count: “negligence and/or gross negligence and/or international harm” for “allowing the … virus to remain undetected and inadequately contained.”

FSIA Exemptions: The plaintiffs invoke the commercial activity and noncommercial tort exceptions.

Class Action: The claimants purport to represent all “businesses in the State of Louisiana.”

Relief Sought: The plaintiffs seek a wide variety of damages, alleging that defendants’ actions caused “hundreds of billions or trillions of dollars in financial damages and/or economic loses [sic].”

Suits Filed by States

Missouri ex rel. Schmitt v. People’s Republic of China, No. 1:20-cv-99 (E.D. Mo. Apr. 21, 2020)

Summary: The State of Missouri has sued to recover “for the enormous loss of life, human suffering, and economic turmoil experienced by all Missourians from the COVID-19 pandemic.” Missouri lays the blame for the pandemic at the feet of the defendants—China, the Chinese Communist Party, and several agencies and instrumentalities of China, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology—that Missouri alleges engaged in “a sinister campaign of malfeasance and deception,” not only through their actions during the initial stages of the virus’s spread but also in their later hoarding of personal protective equipment.

Claims: Missouri claims that the defendants (1) created a public nuisance, (2) engaged in abnormally dangerous activities and (3) were negligent.

FSIA Exemptions: Missouri invokes the commercial activity and noncommercial tort exceptions. Missouri claims that the Chinese Communist Party is not entitled to sovereign immunity.

Class Action: No.

Relief Sought: Missouri requests a wide variety of damages. It has not named a specific figure, but its complaint references “billions and possibly tens of billions of dollars in economic damages, as well as substantial non-economic damages.” Besides damages, Missouri has asked for injunctive relief and for an order to the defendants to abate the nuisance and cease the abnormally dangerous activity. Exactly what that would look like is unclear; in practice, it may mean simply reimbursing the cost of the state’s abatement efforts.

Mississippi v. People’s Republic of China, No. 1:20-cv-168 (S.D. Miss. May 12, 2020)

Summary: The State of Mississippi has largely copied the text of its complaint from that filed by Missouri, with some interesting departures. First, unlike Missouri, Mississippi does not claim that the Chinese Communist Party is not entitled to sovereign immunity; instead, Mississippi claims that the party and the People’s Republic of China “essentially act as one and the same entity,” presumably both covered by the FSIA. Second, Mississippi does not rely on the FSIA’s noncommercial tort exception. Third, Mississippi emphasizes the defendants’ alleged hoarding of PPE more than Missouri, even claiming that the alleged Chinese cover-up at the outset of the pandemic, also featured in the Missouri complaint, “was at least in part motivated by a desire to give Defendants time to hoard PPE.”

Claims: Mississippi brings only two claims under state law: (1) violation of the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act and (2) violations of Mississippi antitrust law.

FSIA Exemptions: Mississippi invokes only the noncommercial tort exception.

Class Action: No.

Relief Sought: Mississippi requests a wide variety of damages, including “billions in economic damages, as well as substantial non-economic damages.” Specifically, one analysis cited by Mississippi suggests that “the economic impact of a single outbreak of a severe flu pandemic like this one on Mississippi could total $6.61 billion.” Besides damages, Mississippi has also asked for injunctive relief along the same lines as Missouri.

Non-Class-Action Suits

Smith v. People’s Republic of China, No. 2:20-cv-1958 (E.D. Penn. Apr. 20, 2020)

Summary: Smith names only two defendants—the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party—and alleges that their delay and failure to “face the new coronavirus and the source of the virus … directly resulted in the global pandemic.” It identifies as evidence decisions by Chinese government officials to, for example, allow foreigners, but not Chinese citizens, to enter and leave Wuhan at the height of the pandemic. Originally brought as a class action, Smith has since been amended twice: first, to include more named plaintiffs and list the Chinese Communist Party as a defendant, as well as to add misrepresentation as a second claim; and second, to remove the class-action allegations and to amend the parties after one of the plaintiffs allegedly died from the virus.

Claims: The plaintiffs claim the defendants (1) were negligent and recklessly indifferent, and (2) misrepresented “their knowledge of the human to human transmission of the coronavirus and the nature of the coronavirus epidemic as a major public health event in China.”

FSIA Exemptions: The plaintiffs invoke the noncommercial tort exception.

Class Action: No.

Relief Sought: The plaintiffs seek a variety of damages, including compensatory damages in excess of $75,000 each.

Greco v. Chinese Communist Party, No. 2:20-cv-2235 (E.D. Penn. May 11, 2020)

Summary: Greco is almost entirely identical to the latest, non-class-action complaint in Smith. Like Smith, it is brought on behalf of several named plaintiffs, some of whom allegedly contracted and were personally injured by COVID-19, and others who allegedly suffered economic harm as a result of pandemic-related shutdowns.

Claims: The plaintiffs claim the defendants (1) were negligent and recklessly indifferent, and (2) misrepresented “their knowledge of the human to human transmission of the coronavirus and the nature of the coronavirus epidemic as a major public health event in China.”

FSIA Exemptions: The plaintiffs invoke the noncommercial tort exception.

Class Action: No.

Relief Sought: The plaintiffs seek a variety of damages, including compensatory damages in excess of $75,000 each.