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Argentine Republic v. Amerada Hess Shipping Corp

    Brief Fact Summary. By basing its suit under the Alien Tort Statute, a pair of Liberian corporations (P) sought to sue the Argentine Republic (D) in the United States courts.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Jurisdiction over foreign states is not conferred under the Alien Tort Statute.

    Facts. A Liberian corporation named United Carriers Inc (P) chartered a vessel known as the Hercules, to Amerada Hess Shipping Corporation (P), which was another Liberian corporation. Transportation of fuel was the rationale behind the charter of the ship. During the 1983 Falkland Islands Wars, the vessel was irreparably damaged while it was off the South American coast and it had to be scuttled.
    Suit was brought against Argentina (D) in the U.S. district court by United (P) and Amerada (P). Standing on the ground of absent jurisdiction, the suit was dismissed by the court. But while resting on the jurisdiction which existed under the Alien tort Statute of 1789, the Second Circuit reversed the judgment and the U.S. Supreme Court granted review.

    Issue. Is jurisdiction over foreign states conferred under the Alien Tort Statute?

    Held. (Rehnquist, C.J) No. Jurisdiction over foreign states is not conferred under the Alien Tort Statute. What the statute confers is jurisdiction in district courts over suits brought by aliens’ n tort for contravening the international law or U.S. treaties. The law does not categorically state its applicability to suits against foreign states
     However, the Foreign Service Immunities Act (FSIA) was enacted by Congress in 1976 which dealt extensively on the issue of jurisdiction over foreign states, and part of the provision of this “new†law was that except as provided in the Act, foreign states shall be immune from U.S. courts’ jurisdiction. Hence, the FSIA can only be the source of jurisdiction over a foreign state since it doesn’t repeal the Allen Tort Statute to the extent that it may confer jurisdiction over a foreign state. Reversed

    Discussion. Although it might seem that the focus of the FSIA is commercial in nature, scores of commercial activities occur beyond the United States which can lead to a foreign state’s being sued in a U.S. court. This is however not applicable in the tort arena.


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