Justia International Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Supreme Court
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Golan, a U.S. citizen, married Saada, an Italian citizen, in Italy, where, in 2016, they had a son, B. In 2018, Golan flew to the United States and moved into a domestic violence shelter with B. Saada sought an order returning B. to Italy under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which requires that a child be returned to the child’s country of habitual residence upon a finding that the child has been wrongfully removed to or retained unless the authority finds that return would expose the child to a “grave risk” of “physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.” The district court concluded that B. would face a grave risk of harm if returned to Italy, given evidence that Saada had abused Golan but ordered B. returned to Italy, applying Second Circuit precedent obligating it to “examine the full range of options that might make possible the safe return of a child” and concluding that ameliorative measures could reduce the risk to B. Following a remand, the Second Circuit affirmed.The Supreme Court vacated. A court is not categorically required to examine all possible ameliorative measures before denying a Hague Convention petition for the return of a child to a foreign country once the court has found that return would expose the child to a grave risk of harm. The Second Circuit’s rule, imposing an atextual, categorical requirement that courts consider all possible ameliorative measures in exercising discretion under the Convention, improperly elevated return above the Convention’s other objectives. A court reasonably may decline to consider ameliorative measures that have not been raised by the parties, are unworkable, draw the court into determinations properly resolved in custodial proceedings, or risk overly prolonging return proceedings. View "Golan v. Saada" on Justia Law

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Parties involved in arbitration proceedings abroad sought discovery in the U.S. under 28 U.S.C. 1782(a), which authorizes a district court to order the production of evidence “for use in a proceeding in a foreign or international tribunal.” One case, a contract dispute between private parties, was proceeding under the Arbitration Rules of the German Institution of Arbitration and involves a private dispute-resolution organization. The second case is proceeding against Lithuania before an ad hoc arbitration panel, in accordance with the Arbitration Rules of the U.N. Commission on International Trade Law.The Supreme Court held that the parties are not entitled to discovery. Only a governmental or intergovernmental adjudicative body constitutes a “foreign or international tribunal” under 28 U.S.C. 1782; the bodies at issue do not qualify. While a “tribunal” need not be a formal “court,” attached to the modifiers “foreign or international,” the phrase is best understood to refer to an adjudicative body that exercises governmental authority. The animating purpose of section 1782 is comity: Permitting federal courts to assist foreign and international governmental bodies promotes respect for foreign governments and encourages reciprocal assistance. Extending section 1782 to include private bodies would be in significant tension with the Federal Arbitration Act, which governs domestic arbitration; section 1782 permits much broader discovery than the FAA.The Court acknowledged that the arbitration panel involving Lithuania presents a harder question. The option to arbitrate is contained in an international treaty rather than a private contract but the two nations involved did not intend that an ad hoc panel exercise governmental authority. View "ZF Automotive U. S., Inc. v. Luxshare, Ltd." on Justia Law

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Cassirer inherited a Pissaro Impressionist painting. After the Nazis came to power in Germany, she surrendered the painting to obtain an exit visa. She and her grandson, Claude, eventually settled in the United States. The family’s post-war search for the painting was unsuccessful. In the 1990s, the painting was purchased by the Foundation, an entity created and controlled by the Kingdom of Spain.Claude sued the Foundation, invoking the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 28 U.S.C. 1602, to establish jurisdiction. FSIA provides foreign states and their instrumentalities with immunity from suit unless the claim falls within a specified exception. The court held that the Nazi confiscation of the painting brought Claude’s suit within the FSIA exception for expropriated property. To determine what property law governed the dispute, the court had to apply a choice-of-law rule. The plaintiffs urged the use of California’s choice-of-law rule; the Foundation advocated federal common law. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the choice of the federal option, which commanded the use of the law of Spain, under which the Foundation was the rightful owner.The Supreme Court vacated. In an FSIA suit raising non-federal claims against a foreign state or instrumentality, a court should determine the substantive law by using the same choice-of-law rule applicable in a similar suit against a private party. When a foreign state is not immune from suit under FSIA, it is subject to the same rules of liability as a private party. Only the same choice-of-law rule can guarantee the use of the same substantive law and guarantee the same liability. Judicial creation of federal common law to displace state-created rules must be “necessary to protect uniquely federal interests.” Even the federal government disclaims any necessity for a federal choice-of-law rule in FSIA suits raising non-federal claims. View "Cassirer v. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation" on Justia Law

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Six individuals from Mali alleged that they were trafficked into Ivory Coast as child slaves to produce cocoa; they sued U.S.-based companies, Nestlé and Cargill, citing the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which provides federal courts jurisdiction to hear claims brought “by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States,” 28 U.S.C. 1350. The companies do not own or operate cocoa farms in Ivory Coast, but they buy cocoa from farms located there and provide those farms with technical and financial resources. The Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit.The Supreme Court reversed and remanded. The plaintiffs improperly sought extraterritorial application of the ATS. Where a statute, like the ATS, does not apply extraterritorially, plaintiffs must establish that “the conduct relevant to the statute’s focus occurred in the United States . . . even if other conduct occurred abroad.” Nearly all the conduct that allegedly aided and abetted forced labor—providing training, equipment, and cash to overseas farmers—occurred in Ivory Coast. Pleading general corporate activity, like “mere corporate presence,” does not draw a sufficient connection between the cause of action and domestic conduct. To plead facts sufficient to support a domestic application of the ATS, plaintiffs must allege more domestic conduct than general corporate activity common to most corporations. View "Nestlé USA, Inc. v. Doe" on Justia Law

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German Jewish art dealers owned a collection of medieval relics. Their heirs allege that the Nazi government unlawfully coerced the consortium into selling the collection to Prussia for a third of its value. The relics are currently maintained by an instrumentality of the Federal Republic of Germany and displayed at a Berlin museum. After unsuccessfully seeking compensation in Germany, the heirs brought claims in the U.S. Germany argued that the claims did not fall under an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act for “property taken in violation of international law,” 28 U.S.C. 1605(a)(3) because a sovereign’s taking of its own nationals’ property is not unlawful under the international law of expropriation. The heirs countered that the purchase was an act of genocide, a violation of international human rights law. The D. C. Circuit affirmed the denial of a motion to dismiss.The Supreme Court vacated. Under the expropriation exception, a foreign sovereign’s taking of its own nationals’ property remains a domestic affair. Historically, a sovereign’s taking of a foreign national’s property implicated international law because it constituted an injury to the state of the alien’s nationality. A domestic taking did not interfere with relations among states. The FSIA’s expropriation exception emphasizes property and property-related rights, while human rights violations are not mentioned. Germany’s interpretation of the exception is more consistent with the FSIA’s goal of codifying the restrictive theory of sovereign immunity, under which immunity extends to a sovereign’s public, but not private, acts. Other FSIA exceptions confirm Germany’s position; those exceptions would be of little consequence if human rights abuses could be packaged as violations of property rights and brought within the expropriation exception. View "Federal Republic of Germany v. Philipp" on Justia Law

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ThyssenKrupp entered into contracts with F. L. for the construction of mills at ThyssenKrupp’s Alabama steel manufacturing plant. Each contract contained an arbitration clause. F. L. entered into a subcontract with GE for the provision of motors. After the motors allegedly failed, Outokumpu (ThyssenKrupp's successor) sued GE, which moved to compel arbitration, relying on the arbitration clauses in the F. L.-ThyssenKrupp contracts. The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards allows enforcement of an arbitration agreement only by the parties that actually signed the agreement.A unanimous Supreme Court reversed. The Convention does not conflict with domestic equitable estoppel doctrines that permit the enforcement of arbitration agreements by nonsignatories. The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) grants federal courts jurisdiction over actions governed by the Convention and provides that “Chapter 1 applies to actions and proceedings brought under this chapter to the extent that [Chapter 1] is not in conflict with this chapter or the Convention,” 9 U.S.C. 208. Chapter 1 does not “alter background principles of state contract law regarding the scope of agreements (including the question of who is bound by them).” The state-law equitable estoppel doctrines permitted under Chapter 1 do not “conflict with . . . the Convention,” which is silent on whether nonsignatories may enforce arbitration agreements under domestic doctrines such as equitable estoppel. Nothing in the Convention could be read to conflict with the application of domestic equitable estoppel doctrines. The court, on remand, may address whether GE can enforce the arbitration clauses under equitable estoppel principles and which body of law governs that determination. View "GE Energy Power Conversion France SAS v. Outokumpu Stainless USA, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 1998, al Qaeda operatives detonated truck bombs outside the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Victims sued the Republic of Sudan under the state-sponsored terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA, 28 U.S.C. 1605(a)(7)), which included a bar on punitive damages for suits under any of the sovereign immunity exceptions. In 2008, Congress amended the FSIA in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). NDAA section 1083(c)(2) creates a cause of action for acts of terror that provides for punitive damages; it gave effect to existing lawsuits that had been “adversely affected” by prior law “as if” they had been originally filed under the new section 1605A(c). Section 1083(c)(3) provided a time-limited opportunity for plaintiffs to file new actions “arising out of the same act or incident” as an earlier action and claim those benefits. The plaintiffs amended their complaint to include section 1605A(c) claims. The district court awarded the plaintiffs approximately $10.2 billion, including roughly $4.3 billion in punitive damages. The D.C. Circuit held that the plaintiffs were not entitled to punitive damages because Congress had included no statement in NDAA section 1083 clearly authorizing punitive damages for pre-enactment conduct.The Supreme Court vacated and remanded. Even assuming that Sudan may claim the benefit of the presumption of prospective effect, Congress was as clear as it could have been when it expressly authorized punitive damages under section 1605A(c) and explicitly made that new cause of action available to remedy certain past acts of terrorism. The court of appeals must also reconsider its decision concerning the availability of punitive damages for state law claims. View "Opati v. Republic of Sudan" on Justia Law

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The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, 22 U.S.C. 9001, provides that a child wrongfully removed from her country of “habitual residence” ordinarily must be returned to that country. Monasky, a U. S. citizen, asserts that her Italian husband, Taglieri, became abusive after the couple moved to Italy. Two months after the birth of their daughter, in Italy, Monasky fled with the infant to Ohio. Taglieri sought the child’s return to Italy. The Sixth Circuit affirmed a finding that the parents’ shared intent was for their daughter to live in Italy, rejecting Monasky’s arguments in favor of an actual-agreement requirement. The two-year-old was returned to Italy.The Supreme Court affirmed. A child’s habitual residence depends on the totality of the specific circumstances, not on categorical requirements such as an actual agreement between the parents. While an infant’s “mere physical presence” is not dispositive, a wide range of facts other than an actual agreement, including those indicating that the parents have made their home in a particular place, can facilitate a determination of whether an infant’s residence is “habitual.” Imposing a categorical actual-agreement requirement is unlikely to address the serious problem of protecting children born into domestic violence and would leave many infants without a habitual residence. Domestic violence should be fully explored in the custody adjudication upon the child’s return. The Convention allows a court to refrain from ordering a child’s return to her habitual residence if there is a grave risk that return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or place the child in an intolerable situation. A first-instance habitual-residence determination is subject to deferential appellate review for clear error. View "Monasky v. Taglieri" on Justia Law

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U.S. Border Patrol Agent Mesa, standing on U.S. soil shot and killed Hernández, a 15-year-old Mexican national, who was on Mexican soil, after having run back across the border after entry onto U.S. territory. Mesa contends that Hernández was part of an illegal border crossing attempt. Hernández’s parents claim he was playing a game with his friends that involved running across the culvert. The Department of Justice concluded that Mesa had not violated Customs and Border Patrol policy or training, and declined to bring charges. The government denied Mexico’s request for Mesa to be extradited. Hernández’s parents sought damages under "Bivens," alleging that Mesa violated Hernández’s Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. On remand from the Supreme Court for reconsideration in light of "Ziglar," the Fifth Circuit again affirmed.The Supreme Court affirmed. Bivens does not extend to claims based on a cross-border shooting. Its expansion to recognize causes of action not expressly created by Congress is “a disfavored’ judicial activity.” While Hernández’s Bivens claims are based on the same constitutional provisions as claims in cases in which damages remedies have been recognized, the context—a cross-border shooting—is significantly different and involves a “risk of disruptive intrusion by the Judiciary into the functioning of other branches.” The Court noted that foreign relations are “so exclusively entrusted to the political branches . . . as to be largely immune from judicial inquiry” and noted the risk of undermining border security. Congress has repeatedly declined to authorize the award of damages against federal officials for injury inflicted outside U. S. borders. When Congress has provided compensation for such injuries, it has done so by empowering Executive Branch officials to make payments under appropriate circumstances. View "Hernandez v. Mesa" on Justia Law

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The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act generally immunizes foreign states from suit in the United States unless an exception applies, 28 U.S.C. 1604. If an exception applies, the Act provides subject-matter jurisdiction in federal district court and personal jurisdiction “where service has been made under section 1608.” Section 1608(a) provides four methods of serving civil process, including service “by any form of mail requiring a signed receipt, to be addressed and dispatched . . . to the head of the ministry of foreign affairs of the foreign state.” Victims of the USS Cole bombing filed suit, alleging that Sudan provided material support to al Qaeda for the bombing. The court clerk addressed the service packet to Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs at the Sudanese Embassy in the United States and later certified that a signed receipt had been returned. Sudan failed to appear. The Second Circuit affirmed default judgment.The Supreme Court reversed. Section 1608(a)(3) requires a mailing to be sent directly to the foreign minister’s office in the foreign state. A mailing is “addressed” to an intended recipient when his name and address are placed on the outside; “address” means “a residence or place of business.” A nation’s embassy in the United States is neither the residence nor the usual place of business of that nation’s foreign minister. Interpreting 1608(a)(3) to require that a service packet be sent to a foreign minister’s own office rather than to a mailroom employee in a foreign embassy harmonizes the rules for determining when service occurs and avoids tension with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. “In cases with sensitive diplomatic implications, the rule of law demands adherence to strict rules, even when the equities seem to point in the opposite direction.” View "Republic of Sudan v. Harrison" on Justia Law