Underhill v. Hernandez

Decision Date29 November 1897
Docket NumberNo. 36,36
Citation168 U.S. 250,42 L.Ed. 456,18 S.Ct. 83
PartiesUNDERHILL v. HERNANDEZ
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

In the early part of 1892 a revolution was initiated in Venezuela, against the administration thereof, which the revo- lutionists claimed had ceased to be the legitimate government. The principal parties to this conflict were those who recognized Palacio as their head, and those who followed the leadership of Crespo. Gen. Hernandez belonged to the antiadministration party, and commanded its forces in the vicinity of Ciudad Bolivar. On the 8th of August, 1892, an engagement took place between the arimes of the two parties at Buena Vista, some seven miles from Bolivar, in which the troops under Hernandez prevailed; and, on the 13th of August, Hernandez entered Bolivar, and assumed command of the city. All of the local officials had in the meantime left, and the vacant positions were filled by Gen. Hernandez, who from that date, and during the period of the transactions complained of, was the civil and military chief of the city and district. In October the party in revolt had achieved success generally, taking possession of the capital of Venezuela, October 6th; and on October 23, 1892, the 'Crespo government,' so called, was formally recognized as the legitimate government of Venezuela by the United States.

George F. Underhill was a citizen of the United States, who had constructed a waterworks system for the city of Bolivar, under a contract with the government, and was engaged in supplying the place with water; and he also carried on a machiney repair business. Some time after the entry of Gen. Hernandez, Underhill applied to him, as the officer in command, for a passport to leave the city. Hernandez refused this request, and requests made by others in Underhill's behalf, until October 18th, when a passport was given, and Underhill left the country.

This action was brought to recover damages for the detention caused by reason of the refusal to grant the passport, for the alleged confinement of Underhill to his own house, and for certain alleged assaults and affronts by the soldiers of Hernandez's army.

The cause was tried in the circuit court of the United States for the Eastern district of New York, and on the conclusion of plaintiff's case the circuit court ruled that upon the facts plaintiff was not entitled to recover, and directed a verdict for defendant, on the ground that 'because the acts of defendant were those of a military commander, representing a de facto government in the prosecution of a war, he was not civilly responsible therefor.' Judgment having been rendered for defendant, the case was taken to the circuit court of appeals, and by that court affirmed, upon the ground 'that the acts of the defendant were the acts of the government of Venezuela, and as such are not properly the subject of adjudication in the courts of another government.' 26 U. S. App. 573, 13 C. C. A. 51, and 65 Fed. 577. Thereupon the cause was brought to this court on certiorari.

Walter S. Logan, C. M. Demond, and Salter S. Clark, for plaintiff in error.

F. R. Coudert, F. R. Coudert, Jr., and Joseph Kling, for defendant in error.

Mr. Chief Justice FULLER, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion of the court.

Every sovereign state is bound to respect the independence of every other sovereign state, and the courts of one country will not sit in judgment on the acts of the government of another, done within its own territory. Redress of grievances by reason of such acts must be obtained through the means open to be availed of by sovereign powers as between themselves.

Nor can the principle be confined to lawful or recognized governments, or to cases where redress can manifestly be had through public channels. The immunity of individuals from suits brought in foreign tribunals for acts done within their own states, in the exercise of governmental authority, whether as civil officers or as military commanders, must necessarily extend to the agents of governments ruling by paramount force as matter of fact....

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316 cases
  • Sharon v. Time, Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of New York
    • November 12, 1984
    ...Cabinet into expanding the war. Although actions by military officers are often considered acts of state, see Underhill v. Hernandez, 168 U.S. 250, 18 S.Ct. 83, 42 L.Ed. 456 (1897), they are acts of state only because they are officially authorized. The actions of an official acting outside......
  • Ramirez de Arellano v. Weinberger
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • October 5, 1984
    ...doctrine was designed to prevent. I therefore dissent. The act of state doctrine, first articulated in Underhill v. Hernandez, 168 U.S. 250, 252, 18 S.Ct. 83, 84, 42 L.Ed. 456 (1897), rests on the proposition that United States courts "will not sit in judgment on the acts of the government ......
  • Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • February 3, 1984
    ...L.Ed.2d 804 (1964). Originally, the doctrine rested primarily on notions of sovereignty and comity. See Underhill v. Hernandez, 168 U.S. 250, 252, 18 S.Ct. 83, 84, 42 L.Ed. 456 (1897). In more recent formulations, there has been "a shift in focus from the notions of sovereignty and the dign......
  • Filartiga v. Pena-Irala
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • June 30, 1980
    ...an act of state. See Banco Nacionale de Cuba v. Sabbatino, supra, 376 U.S. 398, 84 S.Ct. 923, 11 L.Ed.2d 804; Underhill v. Hernandez, 168 U.S. 250, 18 S.Ct. 83, 42 L.Ed. 456 (1897). Paraguay's renunciation of torture as a legitimate instrument of state policy, however, does not strip the to......
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1 firm's commentaries
  • Fate Of The Treasured 'Cranachs' Continues – Part 2 And The Act Of State Doctrine
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • January 31, 2015
    ...of one country will not sit in judgment on the acts of the government of another, done within its own territory." Underhill v. Hernandez, 168 U.S. 250, 252 (1897). Further, "Act of [S]tate issues only arise when a court must decide—that is, when the outcome of the case turns upon—the effect......
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  • Antitrust and International Commerce
    • United States
    • ABA Antitrust Library Antitrust Law Developments (Ninth Edition) - Volume II
    • February 2, 2022
    ...the entities subject to antitrust law.” Id. 248. INT’L ANTITRUST GUIDELINES, supra note 1, § 4.2.1. 249. See Underhill v. Hernandez, 168 U.S. 250, 252 (1897) (“Every sovereign state is bound to respect the independence of every other sovereign state, and the courts of one country will not s......
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    • United States
    • ABA Antitrust Library Antitrust Law Developments (Ninth Edition) - Volume II
    • February 2, 2022
    ...2d 475 (D. Md. 2005), 38, 1579 Umbro Int’l v. Japan Prof’l Football League, 1997 WL 33378853 (D.S.C. 1997), 1309 Underhill v. Hernandez, 168 U.S. 250 (1897), 1321, 1325 Undersea Breathing Sys. v. Nitrox Techs., 985 F. Supp. 752 (N.D. Ill. 1997), appeal dismissed, 155 F.3d 574 (Fed. Cir. 199......
  • Chapter VIII. Decisions of national tribunals
    • United States
    • United Nations Juridical Yearbook No. 1995, January 1995
    • January 1, 1995
    ...within its territory, see Banco Nacional de Cuba v. Sabbatino, 376 U.S. at 418, 84 S.Ct. 923, 940, 11 L.Ed.2d 804; Underhill v. Hernandez, 168 U.S. 250, 252, 18 S.Ct. 83, 84, 42 L.Ed. 456 (1897), might be implicated in some cases arising under section 1350. However, as in Filártiga, 630 F.2......
  • Mac Nonsense, the Afghan War, and Combatant Immunity
    • United States
    • University of Georgia School of Law Georgia Journal of International & Comparative Law No. 44-3, 2016
    • Invalid date
    ...combat. The maxim about the law becoming silent in the noise of arms applies. The purpose of battle is to kill."); Underhill v. Hernandez, 168 U.S. 250, 253 (1897) ("[I]f actual war has been waged, acts of legitimate warfare cannot be made the basis of individual liability."); Freeland v. W......
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