In Westfield v. Germany, the Sixth Circuit joined the Second, Tenth, and D.C. circuits to hold that the commercial activities exception in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(2), does not apply where the foreign country’s action is not directly linked to the United States. Walter Westfield was a well-known Jewish art dealer in 1930s Germany. He attempted to flee to the United States after the Nazi takeover, but was instead sentenced to prison and his art collection was confiscated. Germany auctioned his collection to help pay for its war effort, and then sent Mr. Westfield to be murdered at a concentration camp.
His heirs sued Germany under Section 1605(a)(2) which applies to any “commercial activity of the foreign state” that “causes a direct effect in the United States.” They argued that because Mr. Westfield intended to send the collection to the Untied States, the seizure caused a direct effect here. Judge Martin’s opinion acknowledged that the recent opinion DRFP LLC v. Venezuela, 622 F.3d 513 (6th Cir. 2010) (see our discussion of this case), had “liberally interpreted” the direct effect requirement, but declined to stretch it any farther. Joining other circuits that had addressed the same question, the Court held that the “direct effect” had to involve a direct connection between Germany and the United States. Because Germany had never promised to send anything to the United States and had not taken property from a United States citizen, Mr. Westfield’s intentions were insufficient to overcome sovereign immunity: “Germany acted entirely within its borders and the only connection to the United States is because Westfeld planned to send the artwork to Nashville.”