In an increasingly interconnected world, businesses that conduct cross-border transactions will continue to navigate complicated and thorny legal regimes. As long as full compatibility between these regimes is unrealized, the doctrine of international comity will remain alive and well in U.S. litigation. Comity is a choice-of-law principle that concerns the extent “to which the law of one nation, as put in force within its territory, whether by executive order, by legislative act, or by judicial decree, shall be allowed to operate within the dominion of another nation.” Comity is different from other closely-related doctrines like the act of state doctrine (a defense designed to avoid judicial inquiry into state officials’ conduct as opposed to private actors) and the foreign sovereign compulsion doctrine (a defense where “corporate conduct which is compelled by a foreign sovereign” is also protected from liability “as if it were an act of the state itself”).
This article discusses one flashpoint area in comity analysis—the question of what deference to give to a foreign sovereign’s interpretation of its own law, a pending question now before the Supreme Court. Adherence to one set of laws may or may not affect a court’s decision to abstain from jurisdiction. In the United States, circuit courts disagree about the degree of deference that should be given to foreign sovereigns who offer their own interpretations of their laws in litigation. For instance, the Ninth and Second Circuits have given a strong degree of deference to such interpretations, with the Second Circuit recently stating that it is “bound to defer” to such statements. In contrast, the Sixth and D.C. Circuit past approaches show that they do not always compel strong deference to a foreign government’s interpretation of its laws.