F Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd v Empagran SA: 14 Jun 2004

United States Supreme Court – the Supreme Court reflected on matters of comity in relation to US competition law in the Sherman Act, saying that a state has jurisdiction to prescribe law with respect to ‘(a) conduct that, wholly or in substantial part, takes place within its territory; (b) the status of persons, or interests in things, present within its territory; (c) conduct outside its territory that has or is intended to have substantial effect within its territory’.
Breyer JA said: ‘this court ordinarily construes ambiguous statutes to avoid unreasonable interference with the sovereign authority of other nations. . . This rule of construction reflects principles of customary international law – law that (we must assume) Congress ordinarily seeks to follow. See Restatement (Third) of Foreign Relations Law of the United States sections 403(1), 403(2) (1986) (hereinafter Restatement) (limiting the unreasonable exercise of prescriptive jurisdiction with respect to a person or activity having connections with another state); Murray v Schooner Charming Betsy, 2 Cranch 64, 118 (1804) (‘[A]n act of Congress ought never to be construed to violate the law of nations if any other possible construction remains’);
This rule of statutory construction cautions courts to assume that legislators take account of the legitimate sovereign interests of other nations when they write American laws. It thereby helps the potentially conflicting laws of different nations work together in harmony-a harmony particularly needed in today’s highly interdependent commercial world.
No one denies that America’s antitrust laws, when applied to foreign conduct, can interfere with a foreign nation’s ability independently to regulate its own commercial affairs. But our courts have long held that application of our antitrust laws to foreign anticompetitive conduct is nonetheless reasonable, and hence consistent with principles of prescriptive comity, insofar as they reflect a legislative effort to redress domestic antitrust injury that foreign anticompetitive conduct has caused.
But why is it reasonable to apply those laws to foreign conduct insofar as that conduct causes independent foreign harm and that foreign harm alone gives rise to the plaintiff’s claim? Like the former case, application of those laws creates a serious risk of interference with a foreign nation’s ability independently to regulate its own commercial affairs. But, unlike the former case, the justification for that interference seems insubstantial. See Restatement section 403(2) (determining reasonableness on basis of such factors as connections with regulating nation, harm to that nation’s interests, extent to which other nations regulate, and the potential for conflict). Why should American law supplant, for example, Canada’s or Great Britain’s or Japan’s own determination about how best to protect Canadian or British or Japanese customers from anticompetitive conduct engaged in significant part by Canadian or British or Japanese or other foreign companies?’


159 L Ed 2d 226, [2004] USSC 238, 542 US 155, 124 SCt 2359




United States

Cited by:

CitedThe United States of America v Nolan SC 21-Oct-2015
Mrs Nolan had been employed at a US airbase. When it closed, and she was made redundant, she complained that the appellant had not consulted properly on the redundancies. The US denied that it had responsibility to consult, and now appealed.
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 09 May 2022; Ref: scu.591915