The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday in OBB Personenverkehr AG v. Sachs [SCOTUSblog materials] that a California woman injured in a train accident in Austria fell outside the commercial activity exception [text] of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act [text, PDF] and was barred from recovery in the US. Berkeley, the victim, believed she was entitled to sue in federal court in California because she had purchased her ticket for the train in the US. In a unanimous opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court held that the crucial events took place in Austria and the event did not fall within the commercial activity exception. The court focused on the critical moment, the “point of contact” where the injury occurred and ruled that the injury was not connected with a commercial activity in the US. This was the Supreme Court’s first decision of the term.
The decision reverses a ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held [opinion, PDF] that “it was not necessary that the entire claim be based upon the commercial activity” of the railroad in the US. The Ninth Circuit ruled the purchasing of the pass in the US was sufficient to satisfy a commercial activity in connection with the US. Denying this interpretation, the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the commercial activity exception held that the conduct resulting in the injury occurred abroad. The Supreme Court adopted a narrow interpretation of the commercial activity exception and was not willing to allow jurisdiction without a significant connection to activity within the US.