International Law – Sovereign Immunity – Seizure of Property Under Restrictive Immunity Doctrine

While in Korea unloading a cargo of rice purchased by the Korean Government, libellant’s steamship was damaged by respondent’s lighter which was assisting in the unloading operation. Libellant instituted suit against the Republic of Korea in a federal district court. in New York claiming the court had jurisdiction over the respondent by virtue of a writ of foreign attachment on Republic of Korea funds deposited in two New York banks. Respondent, in a special appearance, moved to dismiss the libel on the alternative grounds that property of a foreign sovereign is immune from seizure and that the purchase of rice for distribution to its population is a governmental function entitling it to immunity from suit even under the current United States policy of restrictive immunity. The State Department, through the attorney general’s office, had informed the court that under international law a foreign power’s property is immune from seizure and that the department’s recognition of this principle was not affected by its pronouncement in 1952 that it would favor the restrictive theory of sovereign immunity. On motion to vacate the attachment, held, granted. Since a foreign sovereign’s immunity from suit is a political rather than a judicial question, the courts will give effect to the decisions of the State Department. New York and Cuba M.S.S. Co. v. Republic of Korea, (D.C. N.Y. 1955) 132 F. Supp. 684.