Wednesday, December 2, 2015
The United States Supreme Court issued a decision this week in Obb Personenverkehr Ag v. Sachs further limiting the availability of U.S. courts for claims that arise from events abroad. The plaintiff in this case is a Carol Sachs, a California resident who purchased a Eurail pass on the Internet from a Massachusetts-based travel company. She used the pass for a train in Austria operated by OBB Personenverkehr, an Austrian state-owned railway. She fell as she was boarding and the moving train crushed her legs, both of which had to be amputated above the knees.
Ms. Sachs sued OBB Personenverkehr in U.S. district court. The railway defended on the grounds of foreign sovereign immunity. Ms. Sachs argued that the commercial activity exception to foreign sovereign immunity applies because her suit is "based upon commercial activity carried on in the United States by a foreign state", i.e., the sale of the railway ticket to her in California. See 28 USC sec. 1605(a)(2).
The Supreme Court determined that the railway is entitled to sovereign immunity from suit. It found that Ms. Sachs' suit is based upon the tragic accident which occurred in Austria, not on the purchase of the Eurail pass in California. Thus, the relevant conduct did not occur within the United States as required by the statute.
This decision continues the Supreme Court's trend towards limiting access to U.S. courts for conduct occurring abroad.