National City Bank of New York v. Republic of China

Citation99 L.Ed. 389,75 S.Ct. 423,348 U.S. 356
Decision Date07 March 1955
Docket NumberNo. 30,30
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

See 349 U.S. 913, 75 S.Ct. 598.


William Harvey Reeves, New York City, for petitioner.

Mr. Louis J. Gusmano, Woodhaven, N.Y., for respondents.

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Shanghai-Nanking Railway Administration, an official agency of respondent Republic of China, established a $200,000 deposit account in 1948 with the New York head office of petitioner National City Bank of New York. Subsequently, respondent sought to withdraw the funds, but petitioner refused to pay, and respondent brought suit in Federal District Court under 48 Stat. 184, as amended, 12 U.S.C. § 632, 12 U.S.C.A. § 632.

In addition to various defenses, petitioner interposed two counterclaims seeking an affirmative judgment for $1,634,432 on defaulted Treasury Notes of respondent owned by petitioner.1 After a plea of sovereign immunity, the District Court dismissed the counterclaims, 108 F.Supp. 766, and entered judgment on them pursuant to Rule 54(b), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.A. Petitioner appealed, and while the appeal was pending sought leave from the District Court to amend the counterclaims by denominating them setoffs and including additional data. The District Court denied leave. 14 F.R.D. 186. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal and the denial on the ground that the counterclaims were not based on the subject matter of respondent's suit (whether they be treated as requests for affirma- tive relief or as setoffs) and, therefore, it would be an invasion of respondent's sovereign immunity for our courts to permit them to be pursued. 208 F.2d 627. Because of the importance of the question and its first appearance in this Court, we granted certiorari.2 347 U.S. 951, 74 S.Ct. 676, 98 L.Ed. 1097.

The status of the Republic of China in our courts is a matter for determination by the Executive and is outside the competence of this Court. Accordingly, we start with the fact that the Republic and its governmental agencies enjoy a foreign sovereign's immunities to the same extent as any other country duly recognized by the United States. See Guaranty Trust Co. of New York v. United States, 304 U.S. 126, 137—138, 58 S.Ct. 785, 791, 82 L.Ed. 1224.

The freedom of a foreign sovereign from being haled into court as a defendant has impressive title-deeds. Very early in our history this immunity was recognized, De Moitez v. The South Carolina, Fed.Cas.No.9,697, 1 Bee 422 (Admiralty Court of Pa., 1781, Francis Hopkinson, J.), and it has since become part of the fabric of our law. It has become such solely through adjudications of this Court. Unlike the special position accorded our States as party defendants by the Eleventh Amend- ment, the privileged position of a foreign state is not an explicit command of the Constitution. It rests on considerations of policy given legal sanction by this Court. To be sure, the nonsuability of the United States without its consent is likewise derived from considerations of policy. But these are of a different order from those that give a foreign nation such immunity. It is idle to repeat or rehearse the different considerations set forth in Mr. Chief Justice Marshall's classic opinion in the Schooner Exchange v. M'Faddon, 7 Cranch, 116, 3 L.Ed. 287.

But even the immunity enjoyed by the United States as territorial sovereign is a legal doctrine which has not been favored by the test of time. It has increasingly been found to be in conflict with the growing subjection of governmental action to the moral judgment. A reflection of this steady shift in attitude toward the American sovereign's immunity is found in such observations in unanimous opinions of this Court as 'Public opinion as to the peculiar rights and preferences due to the sovereign has changed', Davis v. Pringle, 268 U.S. 315, 318, 45 S.Ct. 549, 550, 69 L.Ed. 974; 'There is no doubt an intermittent tendency on the part of governments to be a little less grasping than they have been in the past * * *,' White v. Mechanics' Securities Corp., 269 U.S. 283, 301, 46 S.Ct. 116, 118, 70 L.Ed. 275; '* * * the present climate of opinion * * * has brought governmental immunity from suit into disfavor * * *,' Keifer & Keifer v. Reconstruction Finance Corp., 306 U.S. 381, 391, 59 S.Ct. 516, 519, 83 L.Ed. 784. This chilly feeling against sovereign immunity began to reflect itself in federal legislation in 1797.3 At that early day Congress decided that when the United States sues an individual, the individual can set off all debts properly due him from the sovereign. And because of the objections to ad hoc legislative allowance of private claims, Congress a hundred years ago created the Court of Claims,4 where the United States, like any other obligor, may affirmatively be held to its undertakings. This amenability to suit has become a commonplace in regard to the various agencies which carry out 'the enlarged scope of government in economic affairs', Keifer & Keifer v. Reconstruction Finance Corp., supra, 306 U.S. at page 390, 59 S.Ct. at page 519. The substantive sweep of amenability to judicial process has likewise grown apace.5

The outlook and feeling thus reflected are not merely relevant to our problem. They are important. The claims of dominant opinion rooted in sentiments of justice and public morality are among the most powerful shaping-forces in lawmaking by courts. Legislation and adjudication are interacting influences in the development of law. A steady legislative trend, presumably manifesting a strong social policy, properly makes demands on the judicial process. See James M. Landis, Statutes and the Sources of Law, in Harvard Legal Essays (1934), p. 213 et seq.; Harlan F. Stone, The Common Law in the United States, 50 Harv.L.Rev. 4, 13 16.

More immediately touching the evolution of legal doctrines regarding a foreign sovereign's immunity is the restrictive policy that our State Department has taken toward the claim of such immunity. As the responsible agency for the conduct of foreign affairs, the State Department is the normal means of suggesting to the courts that a sovereign be granted immunity from a particular suit. Ex parte Republic of Peru, 318 U.S. 578, 581, 63 S.Ct. 793, 795, 87 L.Ed. 1014. Its failure or refusal to suggest such immunity has been accorded significant weight by this Court. See Compania Espanola de Navegacion Maritima, S.A. v. The Navemar 303 U.S. 68, 58 S.Ct. 432, 82 L.Ed. 667; Republic of Mexico v. Hoffman, 324 U.S. 30, 65 S.Ct. 530, 89 L.Ed. 729. And this for the reason that a major consideration for the rule enunciated in The Schooner Exchange is the embarrassing consequences which judicial rejection of a claim of sovereign immunity may have on diplomatic relations. Recently the State Department has pronounced broadly against recognizing sovereign immunity for the commercial operations of a foreign government, 26 Dept.State Bull. 984 (1952), despite the fact that this Court thirty years earlier rejected the weighty opinion of Judge Mack in The Pesaro, D.C., 277 F. 473 (see, also, his opinion in The Gloria, 286 F. 188), for differentiating between commercial and war vessels of governments. Berizzi Bros. Co. v. Steamship Pesaro, 271 U.S. 562, 46 S.Ct. 611, 70 L.Ed. 1088.

And so we come to the immediate situation before us. The short of the matter is that we are not dealing with an attempt to bring a recognized foreign government into one of our courts as a defendant and subject it to the rule of law to which nongovernmental obligors must bow. We have a foreign government invoking our law but resisting a claim against it which fairly would curtail its recovery.6 It wants our law, like any other litigant, but it wants our law free from the claims of justice. It becomes vital, therefore, to examine the extent to which the considerations which led this Court to bar a suit against a sovereign in The Schooner Exchange are applicable here to foreclose a court from determining, according to prevailing law, whether the Republic of China's claim against the National City Bank would be unjustly enforced by disregarding legitimate claims against the Republic of China. As expounded in The Schooner Exchange, the doctrine is one of implied consent by the territorial sovereign to exempt the foreign sovereign from its 'exclusive and absolute' jurisdiction, the implication deriving from standards of public morality, fair dealing, reciprocal self-interest, and respect for the 'power and dignity' of the foreign sovereign.7 (a) The Court of Claims is available to foreign nationals (or their governments) on a simple condition: that the foreign national's government can be sued in its courts on claims by our citizens.8 An American or a Chinese9 could sue in the Court of Claims for default on a United States bond, 28 U.S.C. § 1491(4), 28 U.S.C.A. § 1491(4), or could counterclaim—to the extent of the Government's claim—in a suit by the United States in any court, 28 U.S.C. § 2406, 28 U.S.C.A. § 2406; see United States v. Wilkins, 6 Wheat. 135, 5 L.Ed. 225; cf. United States v. Bank of the Metropolis, 15 Pet. 377, 10 L.Ed. 774; United States v. United States F. & G. Co., 309 U.S. 506, 511, 60 S.Ct. 653, 655, 84 L.Ed. 894. Thus it seems only fair to subject a foreign sovereign, coming into our courts by its own choice, to a liability substantially less than our own Government long ago willingly assumed.

(b) The Republic of China is apparently suable on contract claims in its onw courts,10 and Americans have the same rights as Chinese in those courts. 11 No parochial bias is manifest in our courts which would make it an affront to the 'power and dignity' of the Republic of China for us to subject it to counterclaims in our courts when it entertains...

To continue reading

Request your trial
149 cases
  • Ex parte Alabama Oxygen Co., Inc., BORG-WARNER
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • 13 Mayo 1983
    ......, and the Industrial Development Board of the City of Bessemer. . (In re ALABAMA OXYGEN COMPANY, ...v. . YORK INTERNATIONAL, YORK DIVISION, BORG-WARNER ... See, e.g. National League of Cities v. Usery, 426 U.S. 833, 96 S.Ct. ... Frankfurter, quoting from National City Bank of New York v. Republic of China, 348 U.S. 356, ......
  • Daliberti v. Republic of Iraq, Civil Action No. 96-1118 (PLF).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 23 Mayo 2000
    ...foreign sovereign state would enjoy immunity in the courts of the United States. See National City Bank of New York v. Republic of China, 348 U.S. 356, 360-61, 75 S.Ct. 423, 99 L.Ed. 389 (1955) ("As the Page 50 agency for the conduct of foreign affairs, the State Department is the normal me......
  • Chemical Natural Resources, Inc. v. Republic of Venezuela
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • 4 Enero 1966
    ...recognizing sovereign immunity for the commercial operations of a foreign government, 26 Dept.State Bull. 984.' (Emphasis supplied) (p. 361, 75 S.Ct. p. 427) The Majority Opinion in the case at bar quotes from that Republic of China case as follows: 'The status of the Republic of China in o......
  • Empresa Cubana Exportadora v. Dept. of Treasury, Civil Action No. 06-1692 (RCL).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 30 Marzo 2009
    ...but it wants our law free from the claims of justice." Id. at 632, 103 S.Ct. 2591 (citing National City Bank v. Republic of China, 348 U.S. 356, 361-62, 75 S.Ct. 423, 99 L.Ed. 389 (1955)). In this case, however, Cubaexport is not attempting to use the federal courts as a sword while invokin......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • Parties
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books California Pretrial Practice & Forms - Volume 1
    • 29 Marzo 2004
    ...without its consent and similarly protects its property from seizure by judicial process. [See National City Bank v. Republic of China, 348 US 356, 358-359, 75 SCt 423 (1955) (foreign immunity not constitutionally mandated but rests on consideration of policy).] Thus, courts have deferred t......
  • Shipwrecked Sovereignty
    • United States
    • Political Theory No. 43-3, June 2015
    • 1 Junio 2015
    ...Sea Hunt, Inc. v. Unidentified Shipwrecked Vessel, 221 F.3d 634, 638 (2000).17. National City Bank of New York v. Republic of China, 348 U.S. 356, 362 (1955). Cited in Odyssey (11th Ct.), 1140.18. The Schooner Exchange v. McFaddon, 11 U.S. 116, 137 (1812); Republic of the Philippines v. Pim......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT