Pop quiz: Can U.S. citizens sue other countries in U.S. courts? Answer: Yes. There are a few exceptions to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which otherwise shields foreign countries from suits in state or federal court. Next question: Which of these exceptions did Congress create in 1996? Answer: The terrorism exception. U.S. citizens who are victims of terrorist attacks can sue a foreign state that (1) participated in or assisted the perpetrators of the attack and (2) has been designated a state-sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. State Department. Third question: Can a plaintiff suing under the terrorism exception seek punitive damages against the foreign country? Answer: Yes. Congress in 2008 listed punitive damages as a possible award for such plaintiffs. Final question: Can plaintiffs who brought a terrorism suit before 2008 still seek punitive damages? In other words, did Congress intend the punitive-damages provision to apply retroactively? Well, this was the very question the Supreme Court answered this week in Opati v. Republic of Sudan. Read on to find out.
With the February sitting now underway after an extended recess, Court-watchers got the busiest week of the term thus far. The Court released seven decisions in argued cases involving all of the following: immigration law, tax law, capital sentencing in Arizona, international treaty law, criminal procedure, ERISA, and the ACCA. We saw a per curiam decision in an Establishment Clause case out of Puerto Rico, and four individual opinions relating to Monday’s orders list. Finally, the Justices heard oral argument in four cases and granted a case for next term. Block off some time for this one; here’s your extensive recap of the action at the Supreme Court this week.