Enforcing International Obligations: Frolova v. U.S.S.R. - Part 1 Chapter 6 - The Practice of International Litigation - 2nd Edition
Lawrence W. Newman has been a partner in the New York office of Baker & McKenzie since 1971, when, together with the late Professor Henry deVries, he founded the litigation department in that office. He is the author/editor of 4 works on international litigation/arbitration.
Michael Burrows, Formerly, Of Counsel, Baker & McKenzie, New York.
International incidents, such as the taking hostage of fifty-two Americans in Iran and the hijacking of TWA Flight 847, sparked an interest in the rights of private persons against foreign sovereigns for unacceptable conduct.
The past two decades have witnessed an increase in the number of international agreements or declarations purporting to describe or proscribe standards of conduct for nations. Such agreements include those concerning the political rights of women, terrorism, crime against internationally protected persons, and damages caused by oil pollution and space objects.
A significant question raised by these agreements is whether they create rights in favor of private persons against sovereigns and, if so, whether such rights may be enforced through actions in U.S. courts.
On May 1, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held in Frolova v. Union of Soviet Socialist Republics that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 19767 (the “FSIA”) did not permit the exercise of jurisdiction over plaintiff's claim for loss of consortium. This Chapter describes the issues posed by Frolova and its possible effects on other claims allegedly arising under international agreements.
Facts in Case
In 1981, the plaintiff, Lois Becker, an American citizen, traveled to the Soviet Union to do research on a doctoral dissertation. While in Moscow, she fell in love with Andrei Frolov, a Soviet citizen. They were married in Moscow on May 19, 1981. The plaintiff returned to the United States in June 1981 when her visa expired. Her husband, however, was not permitted to leave because he did not have official permission needed to leave the Soviet Union. In September 1981 the U.S.S.R. denied, because of “bad relations with the United States,” Mr. Frolov’s request to leave. In April 1982 Mr Frolov’s second request was also denied because it was “not in the interest of the Soviet State.” The following month Mr. Frolov started a hunger strike together with six other Muscovites who had spouses living abroad.
District Court Ruling—On May 20, 1982, Mrs. Frolova filed an action in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The complaint alleged that she had suffered mental anguish, physical distress and loss of her rights of consortium because of the U.S.S.R.’s refusal to permit her husband to emigrate. The complaint sought money damages and requested injunctive relief for the return of her husband.