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If the acts of a defendant are the acts of the government of a foreign country, as such they are not properly the subject of adjudication in the courts of another government.
In early 1982, a revolution occurred in Venezuela, and defendant General Hernandez was in the anti-administration party that took command of Bolivar. He became the civil and military chief of the City. On the other hand, plaintiff George F. Underhill was a U.S. citizen who was under contract with the City of Bolivar to construct a waterworks system for it. Plaintiff applied to the defendant for a passport to leave the City, but defendant refused to issue a passport with a view to coercing him to operate his waterworks and his repair works for the benefit of the community and the revolutionary forces. Eventually, a passport was issued and plaintiff left Venezuela. The revolutionary government under which the defendant was acting was recognized by the United States as the legitimate government of Venezuela. Subsequently, plaintiff sued defendant for refusing to issue a passport for him to leave the city, for the alleged assaults by the soldiers of the defendant's army, and for the alleged confinement to his own house. The circuit court ruled in defendant’s favor holding that his acts were those of a military commander representing a de facto government in the prosecution of a war, thus, defendant was not civilly responsible. This judgment was affirmed by the appellate court. Plaintiff sought review.
Did the lower courts err in holding that defendant was not subject to adjudication in the U.S. because his acts were the acts of the government of Venezuela?
The court concurred with the lower court's decision and held that plaintiff was not entitled to recover. The court reasoned that every sovereign State was bound to respect the independence of every other sovereign State, and the courts of one country will not sit in judgment on the acts of the government of another done within its own territory. That redress of grievances by reason of such acts must be obtained through the means open to be availed of by sovereign powers as between themselves. In this case, the court concluded that defendant was carrying on military operations in support of the revolutionary party. Thus, the acts complained of were the acts of a military commander representing the authority of the revolutionary party as a government, which afterwards succeeded and was recognized by the United States. Accordingly, the court was of the view that the appellate court was justified in concluding that the acts of the defendant were the acts of the government of Venezuela, and as such, they were not properly the subject of adjudication in the courts of another government.