Thursday, June 14, 2018
SCOTUS decision in Animal Science: Deference to a foreign government’s statement about its own domestic law
Today the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Animal Science Products, Inc. v. Hebei Welcome Pharmaceutical Co. (covered earlier here). Justice Ginsburg’s opinion for the Court begins:
When foreign law is relevant to a case instituted in a federal court, and the foreign government whose law is in contention submits an official statement on the meaning and interpretation of its domestic law, may the federal court look beyond that official statement? The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit answered generally “no,” ruling that federal courts are “bound to defer” to a foreign government’s construction of its own law, whenever that construction is “reasonable.” In re Vitamin C Antitrust Litigation, 837 F. 3d 175, 189 (2016).
We hold otherwise. A federal court should accord respectful consideration to a foreign government’s submission, but is not bound to accord conclusive effect to the foreign government’s statements. Instead, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 44.1 instructs that, in determining foreign law, “the court may consider any relevant material or source . . . whether or not submitted by a party.” As “[t]he court’s determination must be treated as a ruling on a question of law,” Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 44.1, the court “may engage in its own research and consider any relevant material thus found,” Advisory Committee’s 1966 Note on Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 44.1, 28 U. S. C. App., p. 892 (hereinafter Advisory Committee’s Note). Because the Second Circuit ordered dismissal of this case on the ground that the foreign government’s statements could not be gainsaid, we vacate that court’s judgment and remand the case for further consideration.
[In the interest of full disclosure, I joined an amicus brief in this case on behalf of law professors in support of neither party. The brief urged the Supreme Court not to endorse the Second Circuit’s doctrine of abstention based on international comity. It didn’t.]