Professional legal translation and court interpreting services play an important role in international estate matters. In the recent Supreme Court case Republic of Austria v. Altmann, the court held that the foreign Sovereign Immunity Act applied retroactively in an individual’s suit against Austria. The case revolves around several Klimt paintings that the Austrian Gallery had allegedly illegitimately kept. The Gallery got the paintings when a Jewish collector fled the country during World War II. Although the collector bequeathed the paintings to family, the Austrian government kept the paintings in the Gallery’s possession. One of the intended inheritors sued the Gallery under US federal law.
The issue of jurisdiction was settled using the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which provides jurisdiction over ‘any claim for relief in personam with respect to which the foreign state is not entitled to immunity’, including ‘rights in property taken in violation of international law’. However, FSIA was passed in 1976, long after the paintings were acquired. But the court read FSIA as applying to claims, not actions – and since the suit was brought after the law’s passing, the
statute applied. Once the right to the property was established, the heir filed the judgment with the Austrian courts, with a foreign language translation, for enforcement.