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U.S. Supreme Court

First Nat'l City Bank v. Banco Nacional de Cuba, 406 U.S. 759 (1972)

First National City Bank v. Banco Nacional de Cuba

No. 70-295

Argued February 22, 1972

Decided June 7, 1972

406 U.S. 759


This case involves a claim by respondent for excess collateral it had pledged with petitioner to secure a loan, and a counterclaim by petitioner for that excess as an offset against the value of petitioner's property in Cuba expropriated by Cuba without compensation. The District Court recognized that this Court's decision in Banco Nacional de Cuba v. Sabbatino, 376 U. S. 398 holding that, generally, the courts of one nation will not sit in judgment on the acts of another nation within the latter's territory (act of state doctrine) would bar assertion of the counterclaim, but concluded that post-Sabbatino congressional enactments had, in effect, overruled that decision. The court issued summary judgment for petitioner on all issues except the amount available for possible setoff. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Sabbatino barred assertion of the counterclaim.

Held: The judgment is reversed. Pp. 406 U. S. 762-776.

MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE and MR. JUSTICE WHITE, concluded that, since the Executive Branch, which is charged with the primary responsibility for the conduct of foreign affairs, has (contrary to the position it took in Sabbatino) expressly represented to the Court that the application of the act of state doctrine in this case would not advance the interests of American foreign policy, the decision in Bernstein v. N.V. Nederlandsche-Amerikaansche, 210 F.2d 375, should be adopted and approved, thus permitting judicial examination of the legal issues raised by the act of a foreign sovereign within its own territory. Pp. 406 U. S. 762-770.

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS concluded that the central issue in this case is governed by National City Bank v. Republic of China, 348 U. S. 356 (holding that a sovereign's claim may be offset by a counterclaim or setoff), rather than by the Bernstein exception to Sabbatino, and accordingly would allow the setoff up to the amount of respondent's claim. Pp. 406 U. S. 770-773.

MR. JUSTICE POWELL, believing that Sabbatino's broad holding was not compelled by the principles underlying the act of

Page 406 U. S. 760

state doctrine, concluded that federal courts have an obligation to hear cases such as this one and to apply applicable international law. Pp. 406 U. S. 773-776.

442 F.2d 530, reversed and remanded.

REHNQUIST, J., announced the Court's judgment and delivered an opinion in which BURGER, C.J.,and WHITE, J., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, post, p. 406 U. S. 770. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 406 U. S. 773. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which STEWART, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 406 U. S. 776.

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