Cotigny v Suarez and USA

CourtCourt of Cassation (France)
Date27 avril 2004
France, Court of Cassation (First Civil Chamber).

(Lemontey, President; Mme Pascal, Rapporteur; Cavarroc, Advocate General)

Cotigny and French Parachuting Federation
Suarez and United States of America

State immunity Jurisdictional immunity Claim in tort against foreign State Claim arising out of accident during training with army parachute team of foreign State abroad Whether parachute training by army personnel constituting a sovereign activity The law of France

Summary: The facts:In March 1997, during a training flight over Arizona in which the United States Parachute Team (USAPT) were participating, Cotigny, a French parachutist, was injured in a mid-air collision with Suarez, a member of the USAPT. Cotigny and the French Parachuting Federation instituted proceedings in tort before the French courts, under Article 14 of the French Civil Code, against Suarez and the United States of America. The defendants' plea of jurisdictional immunity was rejected at first instance but upheld by the Court of Appeal of Paris. The claimants appealed to the Court of Cassation arguing in particular that, at the time of the accident, Suarez had been participating in training for an international sporting competition, as a member of a civilian parachuting team.

Held:The appeal was dismissed. The United States was entitled to jurisdictional immunity.

(1) Foreign States and their entities, or persons acting on their behalf, enjoyed jurisdictional immunity not only for their acts performed as public authorities but also for acts performed in the interests of a public service. The defendant was a member of the United States Parachute Team and the training session during which the accident had occurred formed part of the ordinary activity of that Parachute Team on United States territory. The involvement of a civilian team in the training did not deprive it of its military character since its purpose was for the United States Army to train its parachutists and to promote recruitment.

(2) Consequently, the activity of the Parachute Team was carried out within the framework of a public service mission of a foreign State and the defendants were entitled to rely on the sovereign immunity of foreign States, which had the effect of depriving the forum State of its jurisdiction.

The text of the judgment of the Court commences on the opposite page.

A report was submitted by Mme Pascal, the Judge Rapporteur, and submissions were made by SCP Waquet, Forge and Hazan, lawyers for Mr Cortigny and the French Parachuting Federation, and Mr Foussard, representing Mr Suarez and the United States of America...

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