U.S. Supreme Court

California woman who bought Eurail pass in US can't sue here for Austrian accident, SCOTUS says

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A California woman can’t sue the Austrian national railroad in U.S. courts for an accident in Austria, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.

The suit by plaintiff Carol Sachs is barred here because her allegations don’t fall within an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, the Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous opinion (PDF) by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

The act generally shields foreign states and their agencies from suit in U.S. courts. One exception allows suits based on commercial activities carried on in the United States.

Sachs’ legs were crushed when she fell onto the tracks while trying to board a train in Innsbruck. She had claimed her suit fell within the commercial activities exception because it was based on the railroad’s online sale of the pass through a Massachusetts travel agent.

“We disagree,” Roberts wrote, “and conclude that her action is instead ‘based upon’ the railway’s conduct in Innsbruck.” There is nothing wrongful about the sale of the Eurail pass standing alone, Roberts said. Instead, all of Sachs’ claims “turn on the same tragic episode in Austria, allegedly caused by wrongful conduct and dangerous conditions in Austria, which led to injuries suffered in Austria.”

Sachs made a new argument before the Supreme Court that that railroad’s entire enterprise constitutes commercial activity carried out here by its marketing and selling of Eurail passes. Roberts said the argument was forfeited because it wasn’t raised in the lower courts.

“Sachs argued in the courts below only that her claims were ‘based upon’ the sale of the Eurail pass, and the lower courts resolved the case on that understanding,” Roberts said.

The case is OBB Personenverkehr AG v. Sachs.

Hat tip to SCOTUSblog.

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