The Permanent Mission of Chad to the United Nations may continue to defend itself in a $1.4 million contract dispute over renovations of a historic mansion in New Rochelle.
U.S. District Court Judge Vincent L. Briccetti had entered a default judgment for Hilt Construction and Management Corp., and closed the case, after Chad failed to respond to the lawsuit.
But the United States intervened, citing sovereign immunity. On Oct. 6, Briccetti set aside the default judgment and allowed the case to continue.
Hilt, of Monmouth Junction, New Jersey, said it did nearly $3.9 million in renovations on the 39-room, 11,216-square-foot mansion at 157 Davenport Ave.
Chad still owes $1.4 million, the contractor said. Chad claims that Hilt charged more than the agreed-upon budget.
Chad bought the Gothic Revival mansion in 2014 for $1.3 million.
Hilt billed the mission for a variety of work: $228,000 for 19 new bathrooms, according to project documents, $231,000 for new windows, $201,550 for a heated swimming pool and deck, $176,630 for hardwood and porcelain floors, $148,040 for lighting fixtures and wiring, $113,130 for a circular driveway and $77,246 for grass and trees on the 1.14 acre lot.
The contractor also charged $137,000 for overhead and $137,000 for profit.
Hilt sued Chad and the previous ambassador, Cherif Mahamat Zene, in 2015. Briccetti dismissed that case, finding that the ambassador enjoyed diplomatic immunity and the mission had not been properly served with papers, under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
Hilt filed a new complaint last year that named only the mission. The court papers were sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Chad, to comply with the sovereign immunity law.
When no one responded or appeared at a court hearing, Briccetti approved the default judgment for Hilt.
Chad learned of the new lawsuit when Bank of America debited $53,519 from its account and notified the mission that funds would be held to satisfy a legal order. Ambassador Moustapha Alifei alerted the U.S. Department of State.
The State Department intervened. Ensuring immunity for official U.N. missions, the government said, affords the same protections for U.S. diplomatic properties overseas.
The U.S. argued that the mission cannot operate without access to its bank account and that property of a United Nations mission, including bank accounts, is immune from attachment under international agreements. Hilt also failed to follow proper procedure for enforcing a default judgment against a foreign state.
The U.S. said it is taking a position only on the immunity issue, and not on the contract dispute.
Briccetti noted that the package of court documents that were sent to Chad was not opened because it was addressed personally to the foreign minister, who was not present.
“This demonstrates perhaps a careless oversight,” Briccetti said, “but not willfulness” in not responding to the lawsuit.
Briccetti set an Oct. 20 deadline for Chad to formally answer the lawsuit.
The ambassador’s residence was built in 1859 for a descendant of the Davenport family that settled on the Long Island Sound. It is known as Davenport House, and also as Sans-Souci.
In 1980 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.