Monday, February 01, 2016

D.C. Circuit Revives Holocaust Survivors' Expropriation Claims Against Hungary

In Simon v. Republic of Hungary, (DC Cir., Jan. 29, 2015), the C.C. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed 14 Holocaust survivors to move ahead with claims against Hungary and the Hungarian state-owned railroad for property taken by the Nazis during World War II. The court summarized its decision as follows:
The wartime wrongs inflicted upon Hungarian Jews by the Hungarian government are unspeakable and undeniable. The issue raised by this appeal is whether those wrongs are actionable in United States courts.... The district court dismissed the suit, holding that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act’s treaty exception grants the Hungarian defendants immunity. The court concluded that the 1947 Peace Treaty between the Allied Powers and Hungary set forth an exclusive mechanism for Hungarian Holocaust victims to obtain recovery....
We hold that the peace treaty poses no bar to the plaintiffs’ lawsuit. While the treaty secures an obligation by Hungary to provide compensation for property interests confiscated from Hungarian Jews during the War, that obligation is not exclusive of other, extra-treaty means of recovery.... As a result, the FSIA’s treaty exception does not preclude this action.
Plaintiffs, however, still must overcome the FSIA’s default grant of immunity to foreign sovereigns. We hold that the FSIA’s expropriation exception affords plaintiffs a pathway to pursue certain of their claims: those involving the taking of the plaintiffs’ property in the commission of genocide against Hungarian Jews.... We further hold that the plaintiffs’ claims do not constitute nonjusticiable political questions.... We leave for the district court to consider on remand whether, as a matter of international comity, the plaintiffs must first exhaust available remedies in Hungary before proceeding with their claims in United States courts. reports on the decision.