Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela v. Helmerich & Payne Int’l Drilling Co.

A court must determine at the outset of a suit against a foreign sovereign whether the expropriation of property in violation of international law exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act applies; it is not sufficient to decide that the plaintiff makes a non-frivolous argument for its application.

The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (28 USC 1604) generally shields foreign sovereigns from suit in United States courts, but permits suit here if rights in property have been taken in violation of international law and the property is owned or operated by a foreign sovereign’s agency or instrumentality engaged in commercial activity in the United States.  This decision holds that the plaintiff cannot proceed in a United States court based just on a nonfrivolous argument that the expropriation exception applies.  Instead, the court must decide at the very outset of the case, as soon as reasonably practicable, whether in fact the exception applies, and dismiss the case unless it concludes that the exception is applicable.

United States Supreme Court (Breyer, J.); May 1, 2017; 2017 WL 1540510

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