The World in U.S. Courts: Summer 2014 - Alien Tort Statute (ATS)/Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA)/Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA)/Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA)
Holocaust survivors brought an ATS action for reparations against the Republic of Hungary, the Hungarian national railway, and a freight rail company, arising from alleged Nazi-era expropriations of the plaintiffs’ property. The U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. first addressed the question of the immunity from suit possessed by the Hungarian national and the railroad defendants, both of which were deemed to be sovereigns. The Court noted the basic rule that non-U.S. nations and their instrumentalities could not be sued in U.S. courts under the FSIA unless a statutory exception applied, and emphasized the role of international comity in deferring to the U.S. Executive Branch in order to resolve suits that do not fall within one of the exemptions. Circumscribing the exceptions is a separate provision of law that deprives U.S. courts of jurisdiction if a suit would conflict with a treaty obligation of the U.S. entered into before the FSIA was passed in 1976. In this case, a 1947 treaty between the U.S. and Hungary purported to address the restoration of Nazi-era confiscation of property, and the Court found that treaty to bar the action.
[Editor’s Note: The case’s discussion of personal jurisdiction issues relating to the freight rail company are addressed below]