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Saudi Arabia v. Nelson

United States Supreme Court
507 U.S. 349 (1993)


The government of Saudi Arabia (defendant) owned and operated a specialist hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which it staffed through the services of The Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), an American corporation located in the United States. HCA performed all recruiting for the Riyadh hospital. In September 1983, Scott Nelson (plaintiff), a U.S. citizen, responded to a recruitment advertisement for a monitoring systems engineer at the hospital. He was offered and accepted the job, and began work in Saudi Arabia. A few months after beginning work, Nelson noticed safety defects in the hospital’s oxygen and nitrous oxide lines. He repeatedly informed hospital superiors, but was told to ignore the safety issues. On September 27, 1984, Nelson was summoned to the hospital’s security office where he was arrested and taken to prison. There, he was tortured and beaten. He was made to sign a statement in Arabic that he could not understand. Nelson’s wife, Vivian Nelson (plaintiff), received a phone call from a Saudi official saying she could arrange for her husband’s release by providing sexual favors. The Nelsons brought suit against Saudi Arabia in federal district court. The district court held it lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). The court of appeals reversed, holding that Nelson’s recruitment and hiring were commercial activities of Saudi Arabia which were carried on in the United States. The court of appeals held that Nelson’s beating and torture were sufficiently related to these commercial activities to support his claim. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Souter, J.)

Concurrence (White, J.)

Dissent (Stevens, J.)

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