Republic of Argentina v. NML Capital, Ltd.
573 US ___ (2014)

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Justia Opinion Summary

After the Republic of Argentina defaulted on its external debt, NML, one of its bondholders, prevailed in 11 debt-collection actions filed against Argentina in New York. To execute its judgments, NML sought discovery of Argentina’s property, serving subpoenas on nonparty banks for records relating to global financial transactions. The district court granted motions to compel compliance. The Second Circuit affirmed, rejecting Argentina’s argument that the order transgressed the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA), 28 U.S.C. 1330, 1602. The Supreme Court affirmed; the FSIA does not immunize a foreign-sovereign judgment debtor from post-judgment discovery of information concerning its extraterritorial assets. The FSIA replaced factor-intensive loosely-common-law-based immunity with “a comprehensive framework for resolving any claim of sovereign immunity” so that any sort of immunity defense made by a foreign sovereign in a U.S. court must stand or fall on its text. The FSIA established jurisdictional immunity, section 1604, which was waived here. FSIA execution immunity under sections 1609, 1610, 1611, generally shields “property in the United States of a foreign state” from attachment, arrest, and execution. Nothing forbids or limits discovery in aid of execution of a foreign-sovereign judgment debtor’s assets. Even if Argentina is correct that section 1609 execution immunity implies coextensive discovery-¬in-aid-of-execution immunity, there would be no protection from discovery a foreign sovereign’s extraterritorial assets. Section 1609 immunizes only foreign-state property “in the United States.” The prospect that NML’s general request for information about Argentina’s worldwide assets may turn up information about property that Argentina regards as immune does not mean that NML cannot pursue its discovery.

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321 .

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

REPUBLIC OF ARGENTINA v. NML CAPITAL, LTD.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the second circuit

No. 12–842. Argued April 21, 2014—Decided June 16, 2014

After petitioner, Republic of Argentina, defaulted on its external debt, respondent, NML Capital, Ltd. (NML), one of Argentina’s bondholders, prevailed in 11 debt-collection actions that it brought against Argentina in the Southern District of New York. In aid of executing the judgments, NML sought discovery of Argentina’s property, serving subpoenas on two nonparty banks for records relating to Argentina’s global financial transactions. The District Court granted NML’s motions to compel compliance. The Second Circuit affirmed, rejecting Argentina’s argument that the District Court’s order transgressed the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA or Act).

Held: No provision in the FSIA immunizes a foreign-sovereign judgment debtor from postjudgment discovery of information concerning its extraterritorial assets. Pp. 4–12.

     (a) This Court assumes without deciding that, in the ordinary case, a district court would have the discretion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 69(a)(2) to permit discovery of third-party information bearing on a judgment debtor’s extraterritorial assets. Pp. 4–5.

     (b) The FSIA replaced an executive-driven, factor-intensive, loosely common-law-based immunity regime with “a comprehensive framework for resolving any claim of sovereign immunity.” Republic of Austria v. Altmann, 541 U. S. 677 . Henceforth, any sort of immunity defense made by a foreign sovereign in an American court must stand or fall on the Act’s text. The Act confers on foreign states two kinds of immunity. The first, jurisdictional immunity ( 28 U. S. C. §1604), was waived here. The second, execution immunity, generally shields “property in the United States of a foreign state” from attachment, arrest, and execution. §§1609, 1610. See also §1611(a), (b)(1), (b)(2). The Act has no third provision forbidding or limiting discovery in aid of execution of a foreign-sovereign judgment debtor’s assets. Far from containing the “plain statement” necessary to preclude application of federal discovery rules, Société Nationale Industrielle Aérospatiale v. United States Dist. Court for Southern Dist. of Iowa, 482 U. S. 522 , the Act says not a word about postjudgment discovery in aid of execution.

     Argentina’s arguments are unavailing. Even if Argentina were correct that §1609 execution immunity implies coextensive discovery-in-aid-of-execution immunity, the latter would not shield from discovery a foreign sovereign’s extraterritorial assets, since the text of §1609 immunizes only foreign-state property “in the United States.” The prospect that NML’s general request for information about Argentina’s worldwide assets may turn up information about property that Argentina regards as immune does not mean that NML cannot pursue discovery of it. Pp. 5–10.

695 F. 3d 201, affirmed.

     Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Ginsburg, J., filed a dissenting opinion. Sotomayor, J., took no part in the decision of the case.

Primary Holding

In non-core proceedings of bankruptcy courts, federal district courts have original jurisdiction and must enter a final judgment after de novo review of the bankruptcy judge's proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, unless the parties consent to have the bankruptcy judge enter a final judgment.

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