Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Railroad is Sovereign. The plaintiffs in Abrams v. Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais were Holocaust survivors, who brought an action against the railroad company that transported tens of thousands of French civilians to Nazi death camps. The District Court dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the railroad had been nationalized and was an instrumentality of the French government and, hence, protected from suit by the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act.

The Second Circuit had vacated the order and remanded for further proceedings on the issue of what the State Department's position during World War II on the significance of the corporate form in foreign sovereign immunity determinations and whether the State Department would have recognized imunity in a case like this.

The defendants sought review from the Supreme Court, which granted certiorai, vacated the Second Circuit decision and remanded for further consideration in light of the Court's decision in Republic of Austria v. Altmann.

Upon remand, the Court affirmed the decision of the District Court. The Court held that Altman held that the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act could be applied retroactively and that the State Department's views were irrelevant. Hence, the District Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case and had correctly dismissed it.

The decision can be found here.

I've always wondered why cases like this were not barred by the statute of limitations. Anyone who can enlighten me is invited to e-mail me with the information -- shausler at

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