Societe Internationale Pour Participations Industrielles Et Commerciales v. Rogers

Decision Date16 June 1958
Docket NumberNo. 348,348
Citation357 U.S. 197,2 L.Ed.2d 1255,78 S.Ct. 1087
PartiesSOCIETE INTERNATIONALE POUR PARTICIPATIONS INDUSTRIELLES ET COMMERCIALES, S. A., etc., Petitioner, v. William P. ROGERS, Attorney General of the United States, and Ivy Baker Priest, Treasurer of the United States
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. John J. Wilson, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. J. Lee Rankin, Sol. Gen., Washington, D.C., for respondents.

Mr. Justice HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question before us is whether, in the circumstances of this case, the District Court erred in dismissing, with prejudice, a complaint in a civil action as to a plaintiff that had failed to comply fully with a pretrial production order.

This issue comes to us in the context of an intricate litigation. Section 5(b) of the Trading with the Enemy Act, 40 Stat. 415, as amended, 50 U.S.C.Appendix, § 5(b), 50 U.S.C.A.Appendix, § 5(b), sets forth the conditions under which the United States during a period of war or national emergency may seize' * * * any property or interest of any foreign country or national * * *.' Acting under this section, the Alien Property Custodian during World War II assumed con- trol of assets which were found by the Custodian to be 'owned by or held for the benefit of' I.G. Farbenindustrie, a German firm and a then enemy national. These assets, valued at more than $100,000,000, consisted of cash in American banks and approximately 90% of the capital stock of General Aniline & Film Corporation, a Delaware corporation. In 1948 petitioner, a Swiss holding company also known as I. G. Chemie or Interhandel, brought suit under § 9(a) of the Trading with the Enemy Act, 40 Stat. 419, as amended, 50 U.S.C.Appendix, § 9(a), 50 U.S.C.A.Appendix, § 9(a), against the Attorney General, as successor to the Alien Property Custodian, and the Treasurer of the United States, to recover these assets. This section authorizes recovery of seized assets by '(a)ny person not an enemy or ally of enemy' to the extent of such person's interest in the assets. Petitioner claimed that it had owned the General Aniline stock and cash at the time of vesting and hence, as the national of a neutral power, was entitled under § 9(a) to recovery.

The Government both challenged petitioner's claim of ownership and asserted that in any event petitioner was an 'enemy' within the meaning of the Act since it was intimately connected with I. G. Farben and hence was affected with 'enemy taint' despite its 'neutral' incorporation. See Uebersee Finanz-Korp., A. G. v. McGrath, 343 U.S 205, 72 S.Ct. 618, 96 L.Ed. 888. More particularly, the Government alleged that from the time of its incorporation in 1928, petitioner had conspired with I. G. Farben, H. Sturzenegger & Cie, a Swiss banking firm, and others '(t)o conceal, camouflage, and cloak the ownership, control and domination by I. G. Farben of properties and interests located in countries, including the United States, other than Germany, in order to avoid seizure and confiscation in the event of war between such countries and Germany.'

At an early stage of the litigation the Government moved under Rule 34 of the Federal Rules of Civil Pro- cedure, 28 U.S.C.A., for an order requiring petitioner to make available for inspection and copying a large number of the banking records of Sturzenegger & Cie. Rule 34, in conjunction with Rule 26(b), provides that upon a motion 'showing good cause therefor,' a court may order a party to produce for inspection nonprivileged documents relevant to the subject matter of pending litigation '* * * which are in his possession, custody, or control * * *.' In support of its motion the Government alleged that the records sought were relevant to showing the true ownership of the General Aniline stock and that they were within petitioner's control because petitioner andSturzenegger were substantially identical. Petitioner did not dispute the general relevancy of the Sturzenegger documents but denied that it controlled them. The District Court granted the Government's motion, holding, among other things, that petitioner's 'control' over the records had been prima facie established.

Thereafter followed a number of motions by petitioner to be relieved of production on the ground that disclosure of the required bank records would violate Swiss penal laws and consequently might lead to imposition of criminal sanctions, including fine and imprisonment, on those responsible for disclosure. The Government in turn moved under Rule 37(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to dismiss the complaint because of petitioner's noncompliance with the production order. During this period the Swiss Federal Attorney, deeming that disclosure of these records in accordance with the production order would constitute a violation of Article 273 of the Swiss Penal Code, prohibiting economic espionage, and Article 47 of the Swiss Bank Law, relating to secrecy of banking records, 'confiscated' the Sturzenegger records. This 'confisaction' left possession of the records in Sturzenegger and amounted to an interdiction on Sturzenegger's transmission of the records to third persons. The upshot of all this was that the District Court, before finally ruling on petitioner's motion for relief from the production order and on the Government's motion to dismiss the complaint, referred the matter to a Special Master for findings as to the nature of the Swiss laws claimed by petitioner to block production and as to petitioner's good faith in seeking to achieve compliance with the court's order.

The Report of the Master bears importantly on our disposition of this case. It concluded that the Swiss Government had acted in accordance with its own established doctrines in exercising preventive police power by constructive seizure of the Sturzenegger records, and found that there was '* * * no proof, or any evidence at all of collusion between plaintiff and the Swiss Government in the seizure of the papers herein.' Noting that the burden was on petitioner to show good faith in its efforts to comply with the production order, and taking as the test of good faith whether petitioner had attempted all which a reasonable man would have undertaken in the circumstances to comply with the order, the Master found that '* * * the plaintiff has sustained the burden of proof placed upon it and has shown good faith in its efforts (to comply with the production order) in accordance with the foregoing test.'

These findings of the Master were confirmed by the District Court. Nevertheless the court, in February 1953, granted the Government's motion to dismiss the complaint and filed an opinion wherein it concluded that: (1) apart from considerations of Swiss law petitioner had control over the Sturzenegger records; (2) such records might prove to be crucial in the outcome of this litigation; (3) Swiss law did not furnish an adequate excuse for petitioner's failure to comply with the production order since petitioner could not invoke foreign laws to justify disobedience to orders entered under the laws of the forum; and (4) that the court in these circumstances had power under Rule 37(b)(2), as well as inherent power, to dismiss the complaint. 111 F.Supp. 435. However, in view of statements by the Swiss Government, following petitioner's intercession, that certain records not deemed to violate the Swiss laws would be released, and in view of efforts by petitioner to secure waivers from those persons banking with the Sturzenegger firm who were protected by the Swiss secrecy laws, and hence whose waivers might lead the Swiss Government to permit production, the court suspended the effective date of its dismissal order for a limited period in order to permit petitioner to continue efforts to obtain waivers and Swiss consent for production.

By October 1953, some 63,000 documents had been released by this process and tendered the Government for inspection. None of the books of account of Sturzenegger were submitted, though petitioner was prepared to offer plans to the Swiss Government which here too might have permitted at least partial compliance. However, since full production appeared impossible, the District Court in November 1953 entered a final dismissal order. This order was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, which accepted the findings of the District Court as to the relevancy of the documents, control of them by petitioner, and petitioner's good-faith efforts to comply with the production order. The court found it unnecessary to decide whether Rule 37 authorized dismissal under these circumstances since it ruled that the District Court was empowered to dismiss both by Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and under its own 'inherent power.' It did, however, modify the dismissal order to allow petitioner an additional six months in which to continue its efforts. 96 U.S.App.D.C. 232, 225 F.2d 532. We denied certiorari. 350 U.S. 937, 76 S.Ct. 302, 100 L.Ed. 818.

During this further period of grace, additional documents, with the consent of the Swiss Government and through waivers, were released and tendered for inspection, so that by July of 1956, over 190,000 documents had been procured. Record books of Sturzenegger were offered for examination in Switzerland, subject to the expected approval of the Swiss Government, to the extent that material within them was covered by waivers. Finally, petitioner presented the District Court with a plan, already approved by the Swiss Government, which was designed to achieve maximum compliance with the production order: A 'neutral' expert, who might be an American, would be appointed as investigator with the consent of the parties, District Court, and Swiss authorities. After inspection of the Sturzenegger files, this investigator would submit a report to the parties identifying documents, without violating secrecy regulations, which he deemed to be relevant to the...

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