Saudi Arabia v. Nelson

PETITIONER:Saudi Arabia et al.
LOCATION:Kenosha County Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 91-522
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 507 US 349 (1993)
ARGUED: Nov 30, 1992
DECIDED: Mar 23, 1993

Everett C. Johnson, Jr. – on behalf of the Petitioner
Jeffrey P. Minear – on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae supporting the Petitioner
Paul S. Stevens – on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case


Media for Saudi Arabia v. Nelson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 30, 1992 in Saudi Arabia v. Nelson

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – March 23, 1993 in Saudi Arabia v. Nelson

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 91-522, Saudi Arabia versus Nelson will be announced by Justice Souter.

David H. Souter:

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

The respondents, a married couple named Nelson, filed this action for damages for personal injury against the petitioner’s the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Saudi hospital and the hospital’s corporate purchasing agent.

That Nelsons’ alleged the injuries resulting from the Saudi Government’s unlawful detention and torture of the respondent Scott Nelson while he was employed as a safety engineer at the hospital, and from the petitioners’ negligent failure to warn up of the possibility of severe retaliatory action if he attempted to report hospital’s safety hazards.

The District Court dismissed for lack of subject-matter restriction under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which generally entitles Foreign States to immunity from the jurisdiction of United States Courts.

The Court of Appeals reversed holding that the Nelsons’ action to fell within the Act’s exception for suit based upon a commercial activity by the Foreign State.

In an opinion filed today with the Clerk of the Court, we reverse the judgment of the Eleventh Circuit and hold that the Act does not confer jurisdiction over the Nelsons’ suit.

Under the restrictive theory of Foreign Sovereign Immunity, which the Act codifies the Saudi Government’s alleged detention and torture of Nelson do not qualify as commercial activities, and to allow that Nelsons’ to proceed alternatively on a failure of warn theory with effectively toward the Act manifest purpose.

The case is reduced something less than complete unanimity.

Justice White has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, which Justice Blackmun joins; Justice Blackmun has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part; Justice Kennedy has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, which Justice Blackmun and Justice Stevens join in part, and Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion.