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Media Alerts - Simon v. Republic of Hungary
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February 2, 2016
  Simon v. Republic of Hungary
Headline: D.C. Circuit allows suit by Hungarian Holocaust victims to proceed

Area of Law: Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act

Issue(s) Presented: Whether Hungarian nationals can bring claims against the Hungarian government under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act for injuries and expropriation of property suffered during World War II.

Brief Summary: Plaintiffs, fourteen survivors of the Hungarian Holocaust, sued the Hungarian government and the state-owned Hungarian railroad alleging that the defendants collaborated with the Nazis to exterminate Hungarian Jews and expropriate their property near the end of World War II. The complaint asserted a variety of causes of action ranging from conversion and unjust enrichment to false imprisonment, torture, and violations of international law. Plaintiffs sought class certification and compensatory and punitive damages, as well as various forms of equitable relief. Defendants moved for dismissal, arguing that the treaty exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1603 et seq., barred plaintiffs' claims because the 1947 Peace Treaty between Hungary and the Allied Powers (including the United States) created a mechanism for Hungarian nationals to seek restitution from the Hungarian government for property rights and interests taken from Holocaust victims, and that any action in U.S. courts seeking recovery for confiscated property necessarily amounted to a challenge to the adequacy of Hungary's compliance with its treaty obligations, a challenge that could only be pursued through the dispute resolution process provided for in the treaty. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia agreed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed, holding that the treaty exception did not apply and that some of plaintiffs' claims could proceed under FSIA's expropriation exception, 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(3), which creates an exception to foreign sovereign immunity for claims involving property "taken in violation of international law." The court concluded that the treaty exception did not bar plaintiffs' claims in this instance because, while the 1947 Peace Treaty imposed an obligation on Hungary to provide a means for its own citizens to seek recovery for wartime wrongs, it did not include language designating the dispute resolution process set out in the treaty as the exclusive means of resolving war-related claims. In the absence of such language, the court determined that the treaty could not be read to prevent Hungarian citizens from bringing claims outside the treaty.

The court further held that claims directly implicating plaintiffs' rights in property could proceed under the expropriation exception. Remanding to the district court to determine "precisely which of the plaintiffs' claims directly implicate property interests or rights to possession," the court determined that the "systematic, wholesale plunder of Jewish property" to which the plaintiffs, along with nearly half a million other Hungarian Jews, had been subjected, amounted to genocide, a clear violation of international law under article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide 78 U.N.T.S. 277 (Dec. 9, 1948). The court rejected defendant's contention that the expropriations of property fell within the "domestic takings rule," under which a foreign sovereign's expropriation of the property of its own nationals does not violate international law, finding the rule wholly inapplicable to the unique circumstances of this case, in which genocide constituted the relevant international law violation.

Judge Henderson concurred, writing separately to "emphasize the baselessness of Hungary's invocation of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act."

For the full text of the opinion, please see

Panel: Henderson, Srinivasan, Wilkins

Argument Date: March 10, 2015

Date of Issued Opinion: January 29, 2016

Docket Number: 14-7082

Decided: Reversed

Case Alert Author:
Ripple Weistling

Counsel: Paul G. Gaston, Charles S. Fax, Liesel Schopler, L. Marc Zell, and David H. Weinstein.for appellants.

Konrad L. Cailteux and Gregory Silbert for appellees.

Author of Opinion: Srinivasan

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Elizabeth Beske, Ripple Weistling

    Posted By: Ripple Weistling @ 02/02/2016 08:27 AM     DC Circuit  

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