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Supreme Court of the United States
December 7, 2020, Argued; February 3, 2021, Decided
[**598] Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act provides that [***8] foreign nations are presumptively immune from the jurisdiction of United States courts. The statute, however, sets forth several specific exceptions. One such exception provides that a sovereign does not enjoy immunity in any case “in which rights in property taken in violation [*708] of international law are in issue.” 28 U. S. C. §1605(a)(3). The question presented is whether a country’s alleged taking of property from its own nationals falls within this exception.
This case concerns several dozen medieval relics and devotional objects known as the Welfenschatz. The treasure (“schatz”) of the German Welf dynasty, the pieces date back to the early days of the Holy Roman Empire and occupy a unique position in German history and culture. The collection was assembled within Germany’s Brunswick Cathedral over the course of several centuries, before being moved to a Hanoverian chapel in 1671 and later to Switzerland for safekeeping in the wake of World War I.
During the waning years of the Weimar Republic, a consortium of three art firms owned by Jewish residents of Frankfurt purchased the Welfenschatz from the Duke of Brunswick. By 1931, the consortium had sold about half of the collection’s pieces to museums and individuals [***9] in Europe and the United States, including many to the Cleveland Museum of Art, where they reside today.
Conditions facing the consortium changed dramatically after the collapse of the German economy and the rise of the Nazi government. After ascending to power, Hermann Goering—Adolf Hitler’s deputy and the Prime Minister of Prussia—became interested in the remainder of the Welfenschatz. The complaint alleges that he employed a combination of political persecution and physical threats to coerce the consortium into selling the remaining pieces to Prussia in 1935 for approximately one-third of their value. Two of the consortium members fled the country following the sale, and the third died in Germany shortly thereafter.
The United States took possession of the Welfenschatz in the course of the occupation of Nazi Germany at the end of the war, eventually turning the collection over to the Federal Republic of Germany. For nearly 60 years, the treasure has been maintained by Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (SPK)—the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation—and it is now displayed at a museum in Berlin. SPK is an instrumentality of the Federal Republic.
Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.
141 S. Ct. 703 *; 208 L. Ed. 2d 589 **; 2021 U.S. LEXIS 756 ***; 28 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 653; 2021 WL 357254
FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF GERMANY, et al., Petitioners v. ALAN PHILIPP, et al.
Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.
Subsequent History: On remand at, Remanded by Philipp v. Fed. Republic of Germany, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 7674 (D.C. Cir., Mar. 16, 2021)
Prior History: [***1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT
Philipp v. F.R.G., 894 F.3d 406, 436 U.S. App. D.C. 464, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 18664 (July 10, 2018)
Disposition: 894 F. 3d. 406, 436 U.S. App. D.C. 464, vacated and remanded.
international law, expropriation, heirs, genocide, domestic, courts, sovereign’s, sovereign immunity, human rights, immunity, foreign state, violations, human rights law, property right, consortium, rights, relations, commercial activity, foreign sovereign, district court, public act, Clarification, alien’s
International Law, Sovereign Immunity, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Construction & Interpretation, Exceptions, Expropriation, Jurisdiction, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Dispute Resolution, Act of State Doctrine, Sources of International Law, Individuals & Sovereign States, Human Rights, Genocide, Commercial Activities, Nexus With Cause of Action, Exceptions, Human Rights, Substantial Contacts, Terrorism, Noncommercial Torts, Commercial Activities, Antitrust & Trade Law, Private Actions, Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organizations, Scope, Civil Procedure, Justiciability, Political Questions, Foreign Affairs, Foreign & International Immunity, Federal Tort Claims Act, Remedies, Damages