On July 1st 1994, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rendered its decision Hugo Princz v. Federal Republic of Germany. The Court granted an appeal filed by the Republic of Germany to challenge a ruling of the United States District Court on the doctrine of sovereign immunity.
Hugo Prinz is a Holocaust survivor who brought a suit against the Federal Republic of Germany to recover monetary damages for having been put through slave labour and for the injuries he suffered as a prisoner in Nazi Germany concentration camps. The Court of Appeals held that the district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over Princz’s claim, based on its analysis of the retroactivity and applicability of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA), which lays down statutory exceptions to the general rule of sovereign immunity.
The Court found that even if the FSIA applied retroactively to the period of 1942-1945, none of the statutory exceptions to the foreign sovereign immunity under the FSIA would apply to the case. Princz’s claim does not fall into the “commercial activity” exception because the Nazi’s leasing of Princz’s force did not have a “direct effect” in the United States. The “waiver” exception does not apply since the fact that there has been a violation of jus cogens does not constitute a waiver of immunity under the FSIA. Similarly, the “treaty provision” exception is not applicable because no treaty stipulated expressly and substantively that Germany had to pay compensation for the wrongs done to Princz.
The Court also found that if the FSIA did not apply to Princz’s claim, the doctrine of absolute sovereign immunity as it stood during 1942-1945 would bar Princz’s claim under the Circuit Law. For the foregoing reasons, the Court did not decide whether the FSIA applied retroactively and granted the appeal.