No. 36.

168 U.S. 250 (1897)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided November 29, 1897.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. Walter S. Logan for Underhill. Mr. Charles M. Demond was on his brief.

Mr. Frederic R. Coudert, Jr., for Hernandez. Mr. Joseph Kling was on his brief.

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE FULLER, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

Every sovereign State is bound to respect the independence of every other sovereign State, and the courts of one country will not sit in judgment on the acts of the government of another done within its own territory. Redress of grievances by reason of such acts must be obtained through the means open to be availed of by sovereign powers as between themselves.

Nor can the principle be confined to lawful or recognized governments, or to cases where redress can manifestly be had through public channels. The immunity of individuals from suits brought in foreign tribunals for acts done within their own States, in the exercise of governmental authority, whether as civil officers or as military commanders, must necessarily extend to the agents of governments ruling by paramount force as matter of fact. Where a civil war prevails, that is, where the people of a country are divided into two hostile parties, who take up arms and oppose one another by military force, generally speaking foreign nations do not assume to judge of the merits of the quarrel. If the party seeking to dislodge the existing government succeeds, and the independence of the government it has set up is recognized, then the acts of such government from the commencement of its existence are regarded as those of an independent nation. If the political revolt fails of success, still if actual war has been waged, acts of legitimate warfare cannot be made the basis of individual liability. United States v. Rice, 4 Wheat. 246; Fleming v. Page, 9 How. 603; Thorington v. Smith, 8 Wall. 1; Williams v. Bruffy, 96 U.S. 176; Ford v. Surget, 97 U.S. 594; Dow v. Johnson, 100 U.S. 158; and other cases.

Revolutions or insurrections may inconvenience other nations, but by accommodation to the facts the application of settled rules is readily reached. And where the fact of the existence of war is in issue in the instance of complaint of acts committed within foreign territory, it is not an absolute prerequisite that that fact should be made out by an acknowledgment of belligerency, as other official recognition of its existence may be sufficient proof thereof. The Three Friends, 166 U.S. 1.

In this case, the archives of the State Department show that civil war was flagrant in Venezuela from the spring of 1892; that the revolution was successful; and that the revolutionary government was recognized by the United States as the government of the country, it being, to use the language of the Secretary of State in a communication to our minister to Venezuela, "accepted by the people, in the possession of the power of the nation and fully established."

That these were facts of which the court is bound to take judicial notice, and for information as to which it may consult the Department of State, there can be no doubt. Jones v. United States, 137 U.S. 202; Mighell v. Sultan of Jahore, (1894) 1 Q.B. 149.

It is idle to argue that the proceedings of those who thus triumphed should be treated as the acts of banditti or mere mobs.

We entertain no doubt upon the evidence that Hernandez was carrying on military operations in support of the revolutionary party. It may be that adherents of that side of the controversy in the particular locality where Hernandez was the leader of the movement entertained a preference for him as the future executive head of the nation, but that is beside the question. The acts complained of were the acts of a military commander representing the authority of the revolutionary party as a government, which afterwards succeeded and was recognized by the United States. We think the Circuit Court of Appeals was justified in concluding "that the acts of the defendant were the acts of the government of Venezuela, and as such are not properly the subject of adjudication in the courts of another government."

The decisions cited on plaintiff's behalf are not in point. Cases respecting arrests by military authority in the absence of the prevalence of war; or the validity of contracts between individuals entered into in aid of insurrection; or the right of revolutionary bodies to vex the commerce of the world on its common highway without incurring the penalties denounced on piracy; and the like, do not involve the questions presented here.

We agree with the Circuit Court of Appeals, that "the evidence upon the trial indicated that the purpose of the defendant in his treatment of the plaintiff was to coerce the plaintiff to operate his waterworks and his repair works for the benefit of the community and the revolutionary forces," and that "it was not sufficient to have warranted a finding by the jury that the defendant was actuated by malice or any personal or private motive;" and we concur in its disposition of the rulings below. The decree of the Circuit Court is



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