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REPUBLIC OF AUSTRIA et al. v. ALTMANN - 541 U.S. 677 (2004)

REPUBLIC OF AUSTRIA et al. v. ALTMANN

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

No. 03-13. Argued February 25, 2004--Decided June 7, 2004

Upon evidence that certain of her uncle's valuable art works had either been seized by the Nazis or expropriated by Austria after World War II, respondent filed this action in Federal District Court to recover six of the paintings from petitioners, Austria and its instrumentality, the Austrian Gallery. She asserts jurisdiction under §2 of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA or Act), 28 U. S. C. §1330(a), which authorizes federal civil suits against foreign states "as to any claim for relief in personam with respect to which the foreign state is not entitled to immunity" under another section of the FSIA or under "any applicable international agreement." She further asserts that petitioners are not entitled to immunity under the FSIA's "expropriation exception," §1605(a)(3), which expressly exempts from immunity certain cases involving "rights in property taken in violation of international law." Petitioners moved to dismiss based on, inter alia, the two-part claim that (1) as of 1948, when much of their alleged wrongdoing took place, they would have enjoyed absolute sovereign immunity from suit in United States courts, and that (2) nothing in the FSIA retroactively divests them of that immunity. Rejecting this argument, the District Court concluded, among other things, that the FSIA applies retroactively to pre-1976 actions. The Ninth Circuit affirmed.

Held: The FSIA applies to conduct, like petitioners' alleged wrongdoing, that occurred prior to the Act's 1976 enactment and even prior to the United States' 1952 adoption of the so-called "restrictive theory" of sovereign immunity. Pp. 9-24.


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