Nelson was a US citizen who
was recruited to work for a hospital in Saudi Arabia.
After repeatedly warning
hospital officials about health violations at the hospital, he was
arrested and tortured by the Saudi government.
Eventually, Nelson was
released and went back to the US, where he sued the Saudi government.
Saudi Arabia argued that US
courts did not have jurisdiction to hear any claims because of sovereign
Nelson argued that the
claims were in relation to his job at the hospital, which was a
commercial activity and not a public act, and were therefore not covered
by sovereign immunity based on the
Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA) (28 U.S.C. 1602).
FSIA says that foreign States can be sued in US
Courts for acts taken "in connection with a commercial
activity" that have "a direct effect in the US."
The US Supreme Court found for
Saudi Arabia and dismissed the claim.
The US Supreme Court found
that the claims were not sufficiently "based upon a commercial
activity" and so were not covered by FSIA.
"The conduct boils
down to abuse of power of its police by the Saudi government, and
however monstrous such abuse undoubtedly may be, a foreign state's
exercise of the power of its police has long been understood for
purposes of the restrictive theory as peculiarly sovereign in nature.
The Court found that since
there was no FSIA exception,
there was no jurisdiction to hear the case because of sovereign
In a dissent it was argued
that the hospital called in the Saudi police to silence a whistleblower.
If they had called in some private security guards to beat up Nelson, that
would surely be covered by FSIA,
so what was the difference?