Academic journal article Houston Journal of International Law

"Equal Treaty Rights": A Response to Professor Paust

Academic journal article Houston Journal of International Law

"Equal Treaty Rights": A Response to Professor Paust

Article excerpt


Professor Jordan J. Paust published an article in this Journal contending that Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code section 71.051 is "violative of treaty law of the United States and cannot prevail under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution." (1) The opinions that Professor Paust cites from the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Committee do not support his contention but, on the contrary, refute it.

According to Professor Paust, the fatal defect in section 71.051 is that it permits a forum non conveniens stay or dismissal of a suit brought by a plaintiff who is not a Texas resident but forbids such a stay or dismissal "if the plaintiff is a legal resident of this state." (2) Professor Paust asserts that discrimination on the basis of who is a "legal resident," which the statute defines as the equivalent of domicile, (3) violates numerous U.S. Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation treaties that promise to afford citizens of other countries access to U.S. courts equivalent to the access of U.S. citizens. (4) Moreover, he contends that residence is a "status" within the meaning of Article 2(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), (5) which contains one of the basic undertakings of the ICCPR parties:

   Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes
   to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its
   territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights
   recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction
   of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion,
   political or other opinion, national or social origin,
   property, birth or other status. (6)

Because residence is a "status," Professor Paust asserts that any discrimination based on residence violates Article 2(1).


Professor Paust characterizes an article that I published in 1994 as "assuming in error" (7) that, because section 71.051 discriminates on the basis of residence and not citizenship, it does not violate U.S. treaties that guarantee citizens of foreign countries equal access to U.S. courts with U.S. citizens. (8) My position in 1994 and today is that if a treaty guarantees citizens of other countries equal access to our courts with U.S. citizens, a court that would deny access to a non-resident U.S. citizen is free to deny access to a non-resident citizen of another country. The Second Circuit has recently agreed with the statement that I made nine years previously:

   Plaintiffs are only entitled, at best, to the lesser
   deference afforded a U.S. citizen living abroad who sues
   in a U.S. forum. This was precisely the level of
   deference the district court assigned plaintiffs' choice of
   forum: it gave them the same initial deference in
   choosing a United States court as it would a United
   States citizen discounted by the fact that plaintiffs are
   not residents of the United States. (9)

Justice Marshall's majority opinion in Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno (10) states that "a plaintiffs choice of forum is entitled to greater deference when the plaintiff has chosen the home forum." (11) When the plaintiff does not sue at home, the plaintiffs choice of forum "deserves less deference." (12) Federal circuit courts discriminate on the basis of a U.S. citizen's residence when deciding whether to grant a forum non conveniens dismissal, because a forum in another country is more appropriate. This discrimination occurs even when the U.S. plaintiff resides in the United States but outside of the district where the plaintiff has sued. In Gemini Capital Group, Inc. v. Yap Fishing Corp., (13) the Ninth Circuit affirmed a forum non conveniens dismissal of a California corporation's suit in the District of Hawaii, stating that the trial court properly gave plaintiffs choice of forum "less deference" than would have been given to a Hawaiian company suing in its home state. …

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