Justia U.S. Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in International 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

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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
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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

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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

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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

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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