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March 9, 2018

The Customary International Law of Jurisdiction in the Restatement (Fourth) of Foreign Relations Law

by William S. Dodge

[Cross-posted from Opinio Juris.)

In a recent post, Dean Austen Parrish took issue with some statements about the customary international law governing jurisdiction in the Restatement (Fourth) of Foreign Relations Law. The occasion for his comments was United States v. Microsoft, a case currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court in which Dean Parrish has filed an amicus brief. I have given my thoughts on the case and on the amicus brief elsewhere and will not repeat them here. In this post, I seek to correct a few misimpressions about the Restatement (Fourth) and the customary international law governing jurisdiction.

First, it may be helpful to sketch briefly the process for producing the Restatement (Fourth). In 2012, the Council of the American Law Institute (ALI) authorized three projects—on treaties, jurisdiction, and state immunity—under the umbrella of the Restatement (Fourth). A team of reporters was assigned to each project. I was made a co-reporter for the jurisdiction project, along with Anthea Roberts and Paul Stephan.

The ALI process begins with a Preliminary Draft prepared by the reporters, which is discussed at a meeting with the project’s counselors, advisers, and members consultative group. Based on this feedback, the reporters prepare a Council Draft, which is discussed at a meeting of the ALI Council. Based on this further feedback, the reporters prepare a Tentative Draft for discussion with the ALI membership at its annual meeting. For the jurisdiction project, three tentative drafts, covering different topics, were approved by the membership and now represent the ALI’s official position. The reporters are currently in the process of combining all the tentative drafts for the three projects together into one volume, which (as indicated below) has resulted in renumbering many of the provisions. Final publication of the Restatement (Fourth) is expected later this year.

On questions of customary international law, the Restatement (Fourth) was blessed with a great deal of expertise from U.S. and foreign lawyers and scholars. Our counselors included three former Legal Advisers of the U.S. State Department, one former Legal Adviser to the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and one Judge of the International Court of Justice. Our advisers included designated representatives from the State Department Legal Adviser’s Office. We also had the benefit of a separate international advisory panel of academics and lawyers from outside the United States. A full list of the counselors, advisers, foreign advisers, and members consultative group for the Restatement (Fourth) is here. Not all of these people will agree with every statement in the Restatement (Fourth). The point is that every question of customary international law addressed in the Restatement (Fourth) was vetted with a broad group of U.S. and foreign experts, and the statements about the customary international law of jurisdiction in the Restatement (Fourth) represent the best judgment of the ALI as to what that law is today.

The first misimpression to correct is Dean Parrish’s statement that “the Fourth Restatement does not purport to set out international law.” Quite the opposite is true. Sections 407-413 of the Restatement (Fourth) (Section 211-217 in Jurisdiction Tentative Draft No. 2) restate the customary international law governing jurisdiction to prescribe. Section 432 of the Restatement (Fourth) (Section 402 in Jurisdiction Tentative Draft No. 3) restates the customary international law governing jurisdiction to enforce. The Restatement (Fourth) does not have a corresponding section restating the customary international law on jurisdiction to adjudicate because, as the Introductory Note to Chapter 2 (Introductory Note, Part III, in Jurisdiction Tentative Draft No. 2) observes, “[w]ith the significant exception of various forms of immunity, modern customary international law generally does not impose limits on jurisdiction to adjudicate.” (The Restatement (Fourth) does have a chapter on state immunity, although its focus is U.S. domestic law under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act rather than customary international law.)

With respect to jurisdiction to prescribe, Section 407 states the basic rule: “Customary international law permits exercises of prescriptive jurisdiction if there is a genuine connection between the subject of the regulation and the state seeking to regulate.” Sections 408-413 set forth the most common bases establishing a genuine connection: territory, effects, active personality, passive personality, protection, and universal jurisdiction. These sections discuss foreign practice at length, citing the practice of more than 50 other countries. The specific bases for prescriptive jurisdiction set forth in the Restatement (Fourth) are largely the same as those found in Sections 402 and 404 of the Restatement (Third).

The Restatement (Fourth) does not continue the position of Restatement (Third) Section 403, which stated that customary international law requires an assessment of the reasonableness of exercising prescriptive jurisdiction in each case. As the reporters’ notes to Section 407 of the Restatement (Fourth) explain, “state practice does not support a requirement of case-by-case balancing to establish reasonableness as a matter of international law.” The Restatement (Fourth) does contain a provision on “Reasonableness in Interpretation”—Section 405 in the Restatement (Fourth) (Section 204 in Jurisdiction Tentative Draft No. 3). This is a domestic principle of statutory interpretation, like the presumption against extraterritoriality and the Charming Betsy canon, under which U.S. courts may “interpret[] a statute to include other comity limitations if doing so is consistent with the text, history, and purpose of the provision.”

With respect to jurisdiction to enforce, Section 432 states the traditional rule that enforcement jurisdiction is strictly territorial: “Under customary international law . . . a state may not exercise jurisdiction to enforce in the territory of another state without the consent of the other state.” To apply this rule, of course, one must determine where enforcement occurs in various situations. When a U.S. court requires a person in the United States to produce information located abroad, as in the Microsoft case for example, does the enforcement occur in the United States or abroad? As the reporters’ notes to Section 431 (dealing with U.S. practice with respect to jurisdiction to enforce) explains, U.S. court orders to produce information located abroad “have not provoked the protests from other states that might be expected if such orders constituted extraterritorial exercises of jurisdiction to enforce.” In the Microsoft case, the fact that none of the foreign governments filing amicus briefs—including Ireland—has characterized the warrant in question as an extraterritorial exercise of jurisdiction to enforce seems conclusive.

Dean Parrish directs most of his criticism at the Restatement (Fourth)’s statement that, “[w]ith the significant exception of various forms of immunity, modern customary international law generally does not impose limits on jurisdiction to adjudicate.” Dean Parrish’s says this is inconsistent with the Restatement (Third), but in fact the Restatement (Third)’s position was more ambiguous than is commonly appreciated. Its Introductory Note for the chapter on jurisdiction to adjudicate, the Restatement (Third) admitted “it is not always clear whether the principles governing jurisdiction to adjudicate are applied as requirements of public international law or as principles of national law.” It characterized the provisions that followed as “international rules and guidelines.” The substance of Section 421 strongly resembled the U.S. domestic law of personal jurisdiction as of 1986, and the reporters’ notes relied heavily on U.S. practice with some reference to U.K. law and the Brussels Regulation. There was no analysis of opinio juris—whether any of the practice was followed out of a sense of international legal obligation.

An honest look at state practice and opinio juris today reveals no limitations on jurisdiction to adjudicate outside the area of immunity. Some bases for adjudicative jurisdiction are certainly considered exorbitant—tag jurisdiction in the United States or jurisdiction based on the nationality of the plaintiff in France, for examples—but these bases are not considered to violate customary international law. The clearest evidence of this is the Brussels I Regulation (Recast) in the European Union, which prohibits the use of exorbitant bases against defendants from other EU member states, but expressly permits the use of exorbitant bases against defendants from non-EU member states and requires EU member states to enforce judgments against such defendants resting on such bases. If states do not refrain from exercising jurisdiction on exorbitant bases of jurisdiction out of a sense of legal obligation, there can be no rule of customary international law prohibiting their use.

The Restatement (Fourth) of Foreign Relations Law also discusses many rules of U.S. domestic law addressing different aspects of jurisdiction, including the presumption against extraterritoriality, personal jurisdiction, forum non conveniens, the act of state doctrine, the doctrine of foreign state compulsion, and the recognition of foreign judgments. (For an overview written for a private international law audience, see here.) The Restatement (Fourth) also tries to distinguish clearly between rules of domestic law and rules of customary international law, and to state rules of customary international law only when they are supported by state practice and opinio juris. But Restatement (Fourth) does address the customary international law of jurisdiction, and it draws on a deep well of expertise in doing so.