The World in U.S. Courts:
U.S. Laws Discussed

We provide below alphabetically very brief summaries of key U.S. laws addressed by cases summarized in the editions. Please note that these summaries provide a very simplified overview of the statutes and are not intended to describe fully what they may prohibit and require. They are only provided as a guide for the convenience of the reader.

Anti-discrimination Statute, 42 USC § 1981

Section 1981 is a federal statute generally prohibiting discrimination in the making of contracts. It embraces employment discrimination, and provides a private right of action by aggrieved person.

Antiterrorism Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2331 et seq.

The Antiterrorism Act creates criminal penalties and civil liability for various forms of terrorist activities committed against U.S. nationals or on U.S. soil. The statute is notable for its civil remedy allowing for the recovery of three-times damages plus attorneys’ fees, as well as an extended statute of limitations.

Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”), 28 U.S.C. § 1350 (also called the Alien Tort Claims Act)

The ATS is a jurisdictional statute that allows U.S. courts to decide cases brought by a foreign citizen for torts committed in violation of international law or a U.S. treaty. Much litigation under the statute involves the nature of the claims that can be brought; although treaties have specified terms, "international law" is a more general term. To support ATS jurisdiction, violations of international law "must be of a norm that is specific, universal, and obligatory."

Commodities Exchange Act (“CEA”) §§ 4o, 9(a), 22(a), 7 U.S.C. §§ 6o, 13(a), 25(a)

The CEA applies to the sale of commodities and imposes restrictions similar to those imposed on stock exchanges. Section 4o of the CEA generally makes unlawful the use of any means of fraud or deceit in connection with the sale of commodities or futures contracts involving commodities. Section 22(a) authorizes private individuals to sue for violations of Section 4o in certain limited circumstances. Finally, Section 9(a) prohibits manipulating the price of commodities or their futures contracts.

Copyright Act

U.S. copyright law applies to any original work of authorship that is in tangible form; it protects the expression of ideas, but not the ideas itself. Copyright protection creates a right to prevent unauthorized use by others, including duplication, distribution, and performance. Copyrights are freely transferrable.

Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act-Anti-Retaliation Provision, 15 U.S.C. § 78u-6(h)(1)(A)

The 2010 Dodd-Frank Act was reform legislation passed in the wake of the financial crisis. As relevant here, one provision expanded incentives for and protection of “whistleblowers” in specific circumstances. Most notably, the provision protects certain individuals from retaliation for making disclosures that are “required or protected” under previously-enacted securities laws or SEC rules. Other important limitations apply.

Foreign Corrupt Practices Act ("FCPA”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 78dd-1, et seq.

The U.S. anti-corruption statute, passed in 1977, generally makes unlawful:

  • Paying, offering to pay, promising to pay, or authorizing to pay,
  • Anything of value,
  • Corruptly,
  • To any third party (including local consultants & joint venture partners),
  • Knowing that some of it will be given to a “foreign official,”
  • To influence the official to confer a commercial benefit of any kind upon the payor.

Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 ("FSIA"), 28 U.S.C. Sec. l330, l332(a), l39l(f) and l60l-l6ll

The FSIA codifies the longstanding U.S. rule that non-U.S. Governments generally are immune from suit in U.S. courts. The statute establishes a presumption against suit, and sets out a number of specific exceptions. These include:

  • Explicit or implicit waiver of immunity by the foreign state;
  • Commercial activity carried on in the United States or an act performed in the United States in connection with a commercial activity elsewhere, or an act in connection with a commercial activity of a foreign state elsewhere that causes a direct effect in the United States;
  • Property taken in violation of international law is at issue;
  • Rights in property in the United States acquired by succession or gift or rights in immovable property situated in the United States are at issue;
  • Money damages are sought against a foreign state for personal injury or death, or damage to or loss of property, occurring in the United States and caused by the tortious act or omission of that foreign state;
  • Action brought to enforce an agreement made by the foreign state with or for the benefit of a private party to submit to arbitration;
  • Money damages are sought against a foreign state for personal injury or death that was caused by an act of torture, extrajudicial killing, aircraft sabotage, hostage taking, or the provision of material support or resources for such an act, if the foreign state is designated as a state sponsor of terrorism under section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act of 1979 (50 U.S.C. App 2405(j) or Section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2371).
  • A suit in admiralty is brought to enforce a maritime lien against a vessel or cargo of the foreign state which maritime lien is based upon a commercial activity of the foreign state.

Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act (“FTAIA”), 15 U.S.C. § 6a

The FTAIA is the principal U.S. statute governing the applicability of U.S. antitrust (competition) laws to foreign conduct. The statute is both complicated and unclear, and has been the subject of extensive litigation. Basically, the FTAIA provides that foreign conduct cannot be the basis of a violation of the U.S. antitrust laws unless certain exceptions apply. These exceptions include, most significantly, foreign conduct that has a “direct, substantial, and reasonably foreseeable effect” on competition or prices in a U.S. market, so long as the conduct also independently violates the substance of a U.S. antitrust law. The FTAIA also permits antitrust claims to be brought where U.S. export commerce is affected by anticompetitive acts outside the U.S.. One important qualification is that the FATIA does not apply to claims that there has been an injury to the import trade into the U.S.. Those claims must satisfy a different test under a different statutory regime.

Gun Control Act, 18 U.S.C. ch. 44

The Gun Control Act of 1968 restricts the sales of firearms the numerous classes of persons, including fugitives from justice, drug addicts, persons unlawfully in the U.S., certain persons suffering from mental illness, and persons convicted of felony crimes.

Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951

The Hobbs Act is a criminal statute that prohibits actual or attempted robbery or extortion affecting interstate commerce between the U.S. and other countries. It is often used in labor disputes and cases involving commercial disputes and public corruption.

Investment Advisers Act of 1940, 15 U.S.C. § 80b-1 through 80b-21

The Investment Advisors Act regulates persons and entities in the business of advising others on securities investments, and requires such persons or entities to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission as investment advisers. Section 206 of the Investment Advisers Act is the source of federal fiduciary standards governing the conduct of investment advisers. Registered investment advisers have fiduciary obligations of good faith, loyalty, and fair dealing to the clients who entrust their money to them.

The Jones Act

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, is a federal statute designed to protect US workers injured at sea. It also regulates the transport of goods between US ports.

Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1051, et seq.

The Lanham Act is the principal trademark infringement statute in the U.S., and also creates additional remedies related to false advertising and “cybersquatting.” The statute makes unlawful the use of both registered and unregistered marks that create a “likelihood of confusion” with a pre-existing trademark. More generally, it also prohibits the use of false or misleading statements made in advertising where the effect may be the likely injury to a business. Amendments to the Lanham Act in 1999 prohibited the use of confusingly similar domain names in internet web sites. Parties that violate the Lanham Act may be subject to damages as well as injunctions.

Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. 2301 et seq.

The Magnuson-Moss Act governs the terms of warranties on consumer products sold in interstate commerce. It does not require that any particular warranties be offered, but provides that the terms and conditions of warranties that are offered be disclosed fully, clearly, and conspicuously. The Act places specific limitations on warranties that are "full" or "limited." Violations may give rise to claims by the U.S. Government as well as consumers.

Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (“MDLEA”), 46 U.S.C. § 70501, et seq.

The MDLEA makes unlawful drug trafficking on the high seas. It provides that an individual may not “knowingly or intentionally manufacture or distribute, or possess with intent to manufacture or distribute, a controlled substance on board (1) a vessel of the United States or a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States; or (2) any vessel if the individual is a citizen of the United States or a resident alien of the United States.” The statute expressly provides for application to conduct occurring outside the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.

Multiforum Trial Jurisdiction Act of 2002 ("MMTJA")

The MMTJA is a federal statute conferring federal jurisdiction in certain cases of mass torts where "complete diversity" among parties would otherwise be required and not satisfied.  The MMTJA's requirements include that the case from an accident that kills over 75 people at a "discrete location."  Moreover, jurisdiction is limited where too many elements of a case are centered in one State.

Patent Act, 35 U.S.C. § 271 (Patent Infringement)

Under U.S. law, patent infringement occurs generally where a person, “without authority makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells any patented invention, within the United States or imports into the United States any patented invention during the term of the patent therefor.” Prior knowledge of the patent is irrelevant for purposes of patent infringement liability. A person who “actively induces” the infringement of a patent is also liable as an infringer. Parties that commit patent infringement face monetary penalties as well as an injunction.

Protection of Officers and Employees of the United States, 18 U.S.C. § 1114

This federal statute establishes criminal penalties for any person who kills or attempts to kill (or assists another in so doing) any officer or employee of the United States (including any member of the uniformed services) while such person is engaged in or on account of the performance of official duties.

Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), 18 U.S.C. § 1961, et seq.

RICO establishes civil and criminal liability for persons employed by or associated with an “enterprise” that has been engaging in a “pattern of racketeering.” The applicability of the statute turns on the meanings of these two terms. The term “enterprise” is broadly defined and can include formal legal entities such as corporations, as well as more informal associations-in-fact, which are “a group of persons associated together for a common purpose of engaging in a course of conduct.” A “pattern of racketeering” is defined in turn to be the commission of at least two “predicate acts” during a ten-year period, where those acts were sufficiently related to one another to be considered part of a “pattern.” The RICO statute lists 35 state and federal crimes that constitute “predicate acts,” including mail and wire fraud, bribery, obstruction of justice, embezzlement, money laundering, immigration fraud, and an assortment of crimes of violence.

Securities Act of 1933, 15 U.S.C. § 77a, et seq.

The Securities Act generally prohibits a security from being offered or sold to the public unless it is either registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission or an exemption from the registration requirement applies.

Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“1934 Act”) §§ 10(b) & 15(a)(1), 15 U.S.C. §§ 78j(b) & 78o(a)(1) (also referred to as Exchange Act)

Section 10(b) of the 1934 Act is a broad provision prohibiting fraudulent activities with respect to securities listed on U.S. exchanges, including American Depositary Receipts (“ADRs”). In addition, pursuant to Section 10(b), the Securities and Exchange Commission has promulgated Rule 10b-5, which extends Section 10(b)’s prohibition to fraudulent activity in connection with the purchase or sale of any security, registered or unregistered securities, publicly held or closely held companies, and any kind of entity that issues securities, including federal, state, and local government securities.

Section 15(a)(1) of the 1934 Act prohibits any person or company to from acting as a broker or dealer without first registering with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Sherman Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1 & 2

The Sherman Antitrust Act is the most generally applicable antitrust statute in U.S. law. Section 1 of the Act makes unlawful any agreement “in restraint of trade.” For most agreements affecting commercial transactions, the statute only makes unlawful agreements that unreasonably restrain trade, meaning that they have an actual anticompetitive effect on a market for goods or services in the U.S. that is not outweighed by precompetitive benefits. Certain narrow classes of agreements, including price-fixing, bid rigging, and agreements among competitors to divide customers or territories, are per se violations of law as to which the facts, if proved, allow for no defenses. Section 2 of the Sherman Act makes unlawful monopolization and attempted monopolization, which may be undertaken by a company acting unilaterally.

Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. § 227 et seq.

The TCPA restricts telephone telemarketing and the use of “robcallers”—automated telephone dialing equipment and artificial or pre-recorded messages. It also covers communications sent by SMS text messages and fax machines.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

This federal statute broadly prohibits discrimination by covered employers. It declares an “unlawful employment practice” for an employer to take various actions, including to discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, or conditions of employment because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Torture Victims Protection Act of 1991 (“TVPA”), Pub. L. No. 102–256, 106 Stat. 73 (1992), codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1350

The TVPA was passed for the purpose of giving a U.S. civil remedy to victims of torture and/or murder. The statute, however, only authorized lawsuits against individuals, not corporations or political groups. When filing suit, the plaintiff must show that he or she pursued all “adequate and available” local remedies. Plaintiffs need not be U.S. citizens to sue.

Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1581 et seq.

The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, Public Law 106-386, as amended, declares illegal the trafficking in persons, including forced labor, involuntary servitude, slavery and sex trafficking. 18 USC § 1595 creates a private right of action in U.S. federal court for victims of such conduct, allowing them to collect actual damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees. Section 1596 of Title 18 establishes that the remedy applies extraterritorially.

Wire Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1084

The Interstate Wire Act of 1961 prohibiting the operation of certain types of betting businesses in the United States. The statute has been construed to be limited to betting on sporting events, and not to apply to other forms of online gambling.

Wire Fraud Statute, 18 USC § 1343

Establishes as a federal crime the use of U.S. means of interstate electronic communication in pursuit of a scheme to defraud.

42 U.S.C. § 1981

This federal statute provides that “all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no other.” The statute is intended to advance the goal that all persons within its scope or equal under the law. Courts have concluded in many cases that it may be enforced by lawsuits in federal court.

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