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W.S. Kirkpatrick & Co., Inc. v. Environmental Tectonics Corp., Int'l

United States Supreme Court
493 U.S. 400 (1990)


Harry Carpenter (defendant), as the chairman and chief executive officer of W.S. Kirkpatrick & Co., Inc. (Kirkpatrick) (defendant), bid on a project in Nigeria. Carpenter arranged with a third party to provide bribes to Nigerian officials in order to secure the contract. The bribes were accepted, and the contract was awarded to Kirkpatrick. The making and receipt of such bribes violated Nigerian law. One of the other project bidders, Environmental Tectonics Corp., International (Environmental Tectonics) (plaintiff), learned of the bribes and informed the United States government. The United States filed charges under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 against Carpenter and Kirkpatrick. Both pleaded guilty. Environmental Tectonics then filed a civil suit against Carpenter, Kirkpatrick, and others (defendants) in a federal court in New Jersey. Defendants moved to dismiss the action pursuant to application of the act-of-state doctrine. The legal advisor to the U.S. Department of State (State Department) submitted a letter to the court asserting the State Department’s opinion that a judicial investigation into the motivation of the foreign sovereign’s act in this case would not cause a degree of embarrassment and interference equivalent to a determination that the foreign sovereign’s act was invalid. Notwithstanding that opinion, the district court dismissed the action. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed, concluding that the State Department’s opinion was convincing and entitled to considerable respect. Defendants petitioned the United States Supreme Court for certiorari.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Scalia, J.)

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