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A federal court should accord respectful consideration to a foreign government’s submission, but is not bound to accord conclusive effect to the foreign government’s statements. Instead, Fed. R. Civ. P. 44.1 instructs that, in determining foreign law, the court may consider any relevant material or source whether or not submitted by a party. As the court’s determination must be treated as a ruling on a question of law, Fed. R. Civ. P. 44.1, the court may engage in its own research and consider any relevant material thus found.
Petitioners, U. S.-based purchasers of vitamin C, filed a class-action suit, alleging that four Chinese corporations that manufacture and export the nutrient (Chinese sellers), including the two respondents here, had agreed to fix the price and quantity of vitamin C exported to the United States, in violation of §1 of the Sherman Act. The Chinese sellers moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that Chinese law required them to fix the price and quantity of vitamin C exports, thus shielding them from liability under U. S. antitrust law. The Ministry of Commerce of the People's Republic of China (Ministry) filed an amicus brief in support of the motion, explaining that it is the administrative authority authorized to regulate foreign trade, and stating that the alleged conspiracy in restraint of trade was actually a pricing regime mandated by the Chinese Government. The U. S. purchasers countered that the Ministry had identified no law or regulation ordering the Chinese sellers' price agreement, highlighted a publication announcing that the Chinese sellers had agreed to control the quantity and rate of exports without government intervention, and presented supporting expert testimony. The District Court denied the Chinese sellers' motion in relevant part, concluding that it did not regard the Ministry's statements as “conclusive,” particularly in light of the U. S. purchasers' evidence. The case was then tried to a jury, which returned a verdict for the U. S. purchasers. The Second Circuit reversed, holding that the District Court erred by denying the Chinese sellers' motion to dismiss the complaint. When a foreign government whose law was in contention submitted an official statement on the meaning and interpretation of its domestic law, the court concluded, federal courts were “bound to defer” to the foreign government's construction of its own law, whenever that construction was “reasonable.”
Was a federal court required to treat as conclusive a submission from the foreign government describing its own law?
The Court vacated the judgment of the Second Circuit, holding that a federal court should accord respectful consideration to a foreign government’s submission, but was not bound to accord conclusive effect to the foreign government’s statements. Instead, Rule 44.1 instructed that, in determining foreign law, the court could consider any relevant material or source whether or not submitted by a party. According to the Court, the court of appeals erred in deeming the foreign government’s submission binding, so long as facially reasonable, because that unyielding rule was inconsistent with Rule 44.1 and with the Supreme Court’s treatment of analogous submissions from States of the United States. The court of appeals did not address other evidence.