Citation. 488 U.S. 428 (1989)
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Brief Fact Summary.
A pair of Liberian corporations sought to charge Argentina (D) under the Alien Tort Statute in the U.S. courts.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Acts occurring on the high seas is not captured under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act’s (FSIA) exception for noncommercial torts.
A vessels used to transport fuel was chartered by United Carriers Inc (P) to Amerada Hess Shipping Corporation (P). Both companies were Liberian corporation and the ship’s name was Hercules. The ship was however irreparably damaged when it was off the South American coast in 1983 during the Falkland Islands War. This led both corporations to press charges against Argentina (D) in the U.S. district court. The district court however dismissed the case for lacking jurisdiction but the Second Circuit reversed on the ground that jurisdiction did exist under the Alien Tort Statute of 1979. A review was subsequently granted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Are acts occurring on the high seas captured under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act’s (FSIA) exception for noncommercial torts?
(Rehnquist, C.J.) No. Acts occurring on the high seas are not captured under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Acts (FSIA) exception for noncommercial torts. Jurisdiction over a foreign state draws its source from the FSIA. A noncommercial tort is thus the only exception to immunity, and this is seen in the statute. This exception applies only to torts occurring in the United States. Since the tort in this case happen on the high sea, it means that it is not applicable to this case. Hence, there is no jurisdiction over Argentina (D) since no section of the FSIA is applicable to this case.
commerce is the main focus of the FSIA. Although there are a wide range of commercial activities which occur outside the U.S that can lead a foreign state to being charged in a U.S. court, the same is not true in the tort arena.