Justia International Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Supreme Court
Jam v. International Finance Corp.
The 1945 International Organizations Immunities Act (IOIA) grants international organizations the “same immunity from suit . . . as is enjoyed by foreign governments,” 22 U.S.C. 288a(b). At that time, foreign governments were entitled to virtually absolute immunity as a matter of international comity. In 1952, the State Department adopted a more restrictive theory, codified in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 28 U.S.C. 1602, which gives foreign sovereign governments presumptive immunity from suit, subject to exceptions, including an exception for actions based on commercial activity with a sufficient nexus with the U.S. IFC, an IOIA international organization, borrowed from Coastal (based in India) to finance the construction of a coal-fired power plant in Gujarat. Petitioners sued IFC, claiming that pollution from the plant harmed the surrounding air, land, and water. The Third Circuit affirmed a holding that the IFC was immune from suit under the IOIA.The Supreme Court reversed. The IOIA affords international organizations the same immunity from suit that foreign governments enjoy today under the FSIA. The “same as” formulation makes international organization immunity and foreign sovereign immunity continuously equivalent. The Court noted other statutes that use similar language to place groups on equal footing. IOIA’s reference to the immunity enjoyed by foreign governments is to an external body of potentially evolving law. The fact that the President can modify otherwise applicable immunity rules is compatible with those rules changing over time in light of developments in the law governing foreign sovereign immunity. The Court noted the State Department’s position that immunity rules of IOIA and FSIA were linked following FSIA’s enactment and that an international organization’s charter can always specify a different level of immunity. View "Jam v. International Finance Corp." on Justia Law
Posted in: International Law, US Supreme Court
WesternGeco LLC v. ION Geophysical Corp.
WesternGeco owns patents for a system used to survey the ocean floor. ION sold a competing system, built from components manufactured in the U.S., then shipped abroad for assembly into a system indistinguishable from WesternGeco’s. WesternGeco sued for patent infringement, 35 U.S.C. 271(f)(1) and (f)(2). The jury awarded WesternGeco royalties and lost profits under section 284. The Supreme Court reversed the Federal Circuit, holding that WesternGeco’s award for lost profits was a permissible domestic application of section 284 of the Patent Act, not an impermissible extraterritorial application of section 271. To determine whether the case involves a domestic application of the statute, courts must identify the statute’s "focus” and ask whether the conduct relevant to that focus occurred in U.S. territory. If so, the case involves a permissible domestic application of the statute. When determining the statute’s focus, the provision at issue must be assessed in concert with other provisions. Section 284, the general damages provision, focuses on “the infringement.” The “overriding purpose” is “complete compensation” for infringements. Section 271 identifies several ways that a patent can be infringed; to determine section 284’s focus in a given case, the type of infringement must be identified. Section 271(f)(2) was the basis for WesternGeco’s claim and damages. That provision regulates the domestic act of “suppl[ying] in or from the United States,” and vindicates domestic interests, The focus of section 284 in a case involving infringement under section 271(f)(2) is the act of exporting components from the U.S., so the relevant conduct occurred in the U.S. Damages are not the statutory focus but are merely the means by which the statute remedies infringements. The overseas events giving rise to the lost-profit damages here were merely incidental to the infringement. View "WesternGeco LLC v. ION Geophysical Corp." on Justia Law
Animal Science Products, Inc. v. Hebei Welcome Pharmaceutical Co.
Purchasers of vitamin C filed suit, alleging that Chinese exporters had agreed to fix the price and quantity of vitamin C exported to the U.S., in violation of the Sherman Act. The exporters unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the complaint and later sought summary judgment, arguing that Chinese law required them to fix the price and quantity of exports, shielding them from liability under U.S. antitrust law. China’s Ministry of Commerce, the authority authorized to regulate foreign trade, asserted that the alleged conspiracy was actually a pricing regime mandated by the Chinese Government. The purchasers countered that the Ministry had identified no law or regulation requiring the agreement; highlighted a publication announcing that the sellers had agreed to control the quantity and rate of exports without government intervention; and noted China’s statement to the World Trade Organization that it ended its export administration of vitamin C in 2002. The Second Circuit reversed a verdict for the purchasers, stating that federal courts are “bound to defer” to the foreign government’s construction of its own law, whenever that construction is “reasonable.” The Supreme Court vacated. A federal court determining foreign law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 44.1 should accord respectful consideration to a foreign government’s submission, but is not bound to accord conclusive effect to such statements. Relevant considerations include the clarity, thoroughness, and support of the foreign government's statement; its context and purpose; the transparency of the foreign legal system; the role and authority of the entity or official offering the statement; and the statement’s consistency with the foreign government’s past positions. Determination of foreign law must be treated as a question of law; courts are not limited to materials submitted by the parties, but “may consider any relevant material or source.” View "Animal Science Products, Inc. v. Hebei Welcome Pharmaceutical Co." on Justia Law
Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC
Petitioners sought compensation under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), part of the Judiciary Act of 1789, 28 U.S.C. 1350, based on terrorist acts committed abroad. They alleged that those acts were in part facilitated by Arab Bank, a Jordanian institution with a New York branch. They claimed that the bank used that branch to clear dollar-denominated transactions that benefited terrorists through the Clearing House Interbank Payments System (CHIPS) and to launder money for a Texas-based charity allegedly affiliated with Hamas. The Second Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the case. Foreign corporations may not be defendants in suits brought under the ATS, which is "strictly jurisdictional” and does not provide or define a cause of action for international law violations. The Court noted that after the Second Circuit permitted plaintiffs to bring ATS actions based on human-rights laws, Congress enacted the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act, creating an express cause of action for victims of torture and extrajudicial killing. ATS suits then became more frequent but “the presumption against extraterritoriality applies to [ATS] claims.” Separation-of-powers concerns that counsel against courts creating private rights of action apply with particular force to the ATS, which implicates foreign-policy concerns. Courts must exercise “great caution” before recognizing new forms of liability under the ATS. In this case. the only alleged connections to the United States, the CHIPS transaction and a brief allegation about a Texas charity, are “relatively minor” and the litigation has caused diplomatic tensions with Jordan, a critical ally. View "Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC" on Justia Law
Rubin v. Islamic Republic of Iran
The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act grants foreign states and their agencies and instrumentalities immunity from suit in the U.S. and grants their property immunity from attachment and execution in satisfaction of judgments against them, 28 U.S.C. 1609, with some exceptions. Petitioners obtained a judgment against the Islamic Republic of Iran under section 1605A, an exception that applies to foreign states designated as state sponsors of terrorism with respect to claims arising out of acts of terrorism. Petitioners sought to attach and execute against Iranian assets—a collection of ancient clay tablets and fragments housed at University of Chicago. The Seventh Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed a holding in favor of Iran. Section 1610(g), which provides that certain property is “subject to attachment in aid of execution, and execution, upon [a 1605A] judgment as provided in this section” does not provide a freestanding basis for parties holding a 1605A judgment to attach and execute against the property of a foreign state. For section 1610(g) to apply, the immunity of the property at issue must be rescinded under a separate section 1610 provision. The section 1610 provisions that unambiguously revoke the immunity of a foreign state’s property employ textual markers that are absent from 1610(g). There is support for petitioners’ position that section 1610(g) was intended to divest all property of a foreign state or its agencies or instrumentalities of immunity. View "Rubin v. Islamic Republic of Iran" on Justia Law
Posted in: International Law, US Supreme Court
Trump. v. International Refugee Assistance Project
In January 2017, President Trump signed executive order EO-1, "Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry," suspending, for 90 days, entry of foreign nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, and suspending the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days. The Ninth Circuit upheld a nationwide temporary restraining order. The government revoked EO-1. EO-2 issued on March 6, describing conditions in six countries that “demonstrate ... heightened risks to [U.S.] security.” EO–2 section 2(a) directs Homeland Security to determine whether foreign governments provide adequate information about nationals applying for U.S visas and to report those findings to the President within 20 days; nations identified as deficient will have 50 days to alter their practices (2(b)). EO–2 2(c) directs that entry of nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, be suspended for 90 days; section 3(c) provides for case-by-case waivers. Section 6(a) suspends decisions on applications for refugee status and travel of refugees under the USRAP for 120 days; 6(b) suspends refugee entries in excess of 50,000 for this year. The order’s stated effective date is March 16, 2017. The Ninth Circuit again declined to stay a temporary injunction. The Supreme Court stayed the order in part, with respect to sections 2(c), 6(a), and 6(b). An American individual or entity that has a bona fide relationship with a particular person seeking to enter the country can legitimately claim concrete hardship if that person is excluded, even if the 50,000-person cap has been reached. As to these individuals and entities, the Court did not disturb the injunction; as to those lacking any such connection, the balance tips in favor of the government’s compelling interest in security. The Court noted a June 12 Ninth Circuit decision vacating the injunction as to 2(a) and stated that the Executive should conclude its work and provide adequate notice to foreign governments within the 90-day life of 2(c). View "Trump. v. International Refugee Assistance Project" on Justia Law
Hernandez v. Mesa
In 2010, a U.S. Border Patrol agent standing on U.S. soil shot and killed Hernandez, an unarmed 15-year-old Mexican national, standing on Mexican soil. Hernandez had been playing a game that involved running up the embankment on the U.S. side of the border. After the Justice Department closed an investigation, declining to file charges, Hernandez’s parents filed suit, including a “Bivens” claims for damages against the agent. The Fifth Circuit affirmed dismissal. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded. A “Bivens” implied right of action for damages against federal officers alleged to have violated a citizen’s constitutional rights is not available where there are special factors counselling hesitation in the absence of affirmative action by Congress. In light of recent Supreme Court precedent (Abbasi), the Fifth Circuit must consider “whether the Judiciary is well suited, absent congressional action or instruction, to consider and weigh the costs and benefits of allowing a damages action to proceed.” The Court noted that the Fourth Amendment question is sensitive and may have far-reaching consequences. Qualified immunity shields officials from civil liability if their conduct does not violate clearly established constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. The lower court concluded that the prohibition on excessive force did not apply to Hernandez, as a foreign national on foreign soil, but the Court noted that Hernández’s nationality and the extent of his ties to the U.S. were unknown to the agent at the time of the shooting. View "Hernandez v. Mesa" on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, International Law, US Supreme Court