Societe Nationale v. District Court
Annotate this Case
482 U.S. 522 (1987)
U.S. Supreme Court
Societe Nationale v. District Court, 482 U.S. 522 (1987)
Societe Nationale Industrielle Aerospatiale v. United States
District Court for the Southern District of Iowa
Argued January 14, 1987
Decided June 15, 1987
482 U.S. 522
The United States, France, and 15 other countries have acceded to the Hague Evidence Convention, which prescribes procedures by which a judicial authority in one contracting state may request evidence located in another. Plaintiffs brought suits (later consolidated) in Federal District Court for personal injuries resulting from the crash of an aircraft built and sold by petitioners, two corporations owned by France. Petitioners answered the complaints without questioning the court's jurisdiction, and engaged in initial discovery without objection. However, when plaintiffs served subsequent discovery requests under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, petitioners filed a motion for a protective order, alleging that the Convention dictated the exclusive procedures that must be followed since petitioners are French and the discovery sought could only be had in France. A Magistrate denied the motion, and the Court of Appeals denied petitioners' mandamus petition, holding, inter alia, that, when a district court has jurisdiction over a foreign litigant, the Convention does not apply even though the information sought may be physically located within the territory of a foreign signatory to the Convention.
1. The Convention does not provide exclusive or mandatory procedures for obtaining documents and information located in a foreign signatory's territory. The Convention's plain language, as well as the history of its proposal and ratification by the United States, unambiguously supports the conclusion that it was intended to establish optional procedures for obtaining evidence abroad. Its preamble speaks in nonmandatory terms, specifying its purpose to "facilitate" discovery and to "improve mutual judicial cooperation." Similarly, its text uses permissive language, and does not expressly modify the law of contracting states or require them to use the specified procedures or change their own procedures. The Convention does not deprive the District Court of its jurisdiction to order, under the Federal Rules, a foreign national party to produce evidence physically located within a signatory nation. Pp. 482 U. S. 529-540.
2. The Court of Appeals erred in concluding that the Convention "does not apply" to discovery sought from a foreign litigant that is subject to an American court's jurisdiction. Although they are not mandatory, the Convention's procedures are available whenever they will facilitate the gathering of evidence, and "apply" in the sense that they are one method of seeking evidence that a court may elect to employ. Pp. 482 U. S. 640-641.
3. International comity does not require in all instances that American litigants first resort to Convention procedures before initiating discovery under the Federal Rules. In many situations, Convention procedures would be unduly time-consuming and expensive, and less likely to produce needed evidence than direct use of the Federal Rules. The concept of comity requires, in this context, a more particularized analysis of the respective interests of the foreign and requesting nations than a blanket "first resort" rule would generate. Thus, the determination whether to resort to the Convention requires prior scrutiny in each case of the particular facts, sovereign interests, and likelihood that such resort will prove effective. Pp. 482 U. S. 541-546.
782 F.2d 120, vacated and remanded.
STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 482 U. S. 547.