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Argued May 5, 2000

James Slater sued Gloria Biehl, the wife of the Ambassador from Chile to the United States, in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia for damages arising from an automobile collision alleged to have been caused by the negligence of Biehl. Biehl answered the complaint denying negligence, and later moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The trial court dismissed the case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. � 1351 (2) (1994 & Supp. IV 1998), which provides that federal “district courts shall have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the states, of all civil actions and proceedings against . . . members of a mission or members of their families.” We hold that 28 U.S.C. � 1351 divests the Superior Court of subject matter jurisdiction, a fundamental defect which may not be waived by a litigant who files a general appearance in the Superior Court without first asserting the defense of lack of jurisdiction. Because the plain language of the statute, buttressed by long historical precedent, clearly directs that civil cases against ambassadors or their families must be brought exclusively in the federal district courts, we further hold that, upon the filing of a proper motion, an award of costs and attorneys’ fees to appellee is appropriate under District of Columbia Appellate Rule 38 as “just compensation” for having to defend a frivolous appeal.


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